Some days, a reverence toward life extends toward appreciation for the opportunity to interview metal legends. I felt that way when Immolation agreed to an interview, and doubly so when it was complete. Check out our new Immolation interview and the complete Immolation CD reviews.No Comments
Death metal spread itself around the world, zooming in and out of media focus, and probably died and was reborn several times. Stalwart pillars of the death metal community remain, guiding it past the social hype and dead ends, and one of the most persistent is New York’s Immolation. These death metal craftsmen have created detailed, artful death metal since the late 1980s and have influenced every generation of the genre. We were lucky to catch Ross Dolan for a few questions.
When you started out in 1988, you were a different band than even a few years later. Dawn of Possession seems divided between the style of those early tracks, which sounds more like a collision between speed metal (Exodus, Metallica, Slayer) and Possessed than the newer material, which seems to me to be fully death metal in a “modern” sense, more like the European bands of the 1990-1991 era. Did your musical goals or influences change during this time?
I think with our first album, our influences are more noticeable than they are in the later albums. This album in particular was written over the course of three years, a few songs here, a few there, until it was finally ready, and actually the last two songs we wrote for that record were “Those Left Behind” and “Into Everlasting Fire,” two of the strongest and most memorable songs of the record in my opinion.
As a young band, we wrote songs for fun and had no intentions of recording an album, nor were we planning on making a 20 plus year career out of the band. We wrote songs as an outlet, we were all into the same music and were trying to create our own version of that, only better and different. I was only 18 when the band formed in 1988, so in a lot of ways I had a lot of growing up to do, and as we matured and focused, so did the band.
I really don’t think we nailed it until possibly our fourth record (Close To a World Below). The first three were a struggle for us to try to find our place, and although we were close, and all the elements were there, it was just a matter of fine tuning. I would say Here in After and Failures For Gods were albums that showed more of Immolation and less of our influences, but at the same time they were experimental in the sense that we were trying to create something unique and different, and didn’t quite know how to get there. I think we were all very happy and proud of our earlier releases, but as the band matured, so did our song writing and confidence in our material.
Our goals I don’t feel ever changed, we were just in a new place with each new record. Each new record was almost like a fresh start for us, leaving everything else behind and starting anew. We obviously wanted to make things better and better, but we never tried to out do ourselves and top the last record, there were way too many other obstacles without adding this kind of pressure into the mix.
As far as influences go, the main inspirations to play music are always there, and all I need to do to remind me of them is to see a great live show or put on a killer album that hits me the same way now as it did 25 years ago, then I am inspired all over again. The bands you mentioned above were all favorites and big inspirations to us as young musicians; in fact Exodus was the first underground metal band I ever saw live in August of 1985 in Brooklyn. They played with Carnivore, Nuclear Assault, Blessed Death and Agent Steel, and it was something I will always remember as a fan.
After the first album, Immolation seems to have gone through three stages of evolution. Technical metal (Here in After), a simplified but punchier style (Close to a World Below, Failures for Gods, and Unholy Cult) and the newest (on Harnessing Ruin, Hope and Horror and Shadows in the Light), a style that reminds me of the powerful storytelling metal bands of the late 1980s and how they wrote songs that seemed like the soundtracks to their fairly epic videos on then-new MTV. What spurred these changes in style, and do these reflecting your desire to reach different people or communicate differently?
I would agree with you, except as I mentioned earlier, I would put Failures for Gods in the “experimental/technical” stage, and the rest seems to fit. After the Unholy Cult record, we made a conscious decision to strip the songs down a bit, make them less bloated with riffs, and make them more straight forward. We wanted to make things more simplified in a stronger way, to make the songs easier to grasp right away, but still maintain that dark and haunting feel that Bob seems to create so well.
Harnessing Ruin was our first attempt at this, but I think we came closer with the latest album and the E.P. Harnessing Ruin was a great album in my opinion, I think it was probably our heaviest album to date, and it saw us taking a brief departure lyrically from the religious themes and focusing more on the world and the darker sides of life, which I think gave it a more personal touch. This change of approach came not to reach new people (let’s face it, if we wanted to reach more people, maybe playing extreme death metal isn’t quite the way to do it), but simply to write better music that got to the point quicker and stuck in the listeners head longer.
The Shadows In The Light album along with the Hope And Horror EP were a continuation of that, only difference is that these newer records had more of the guitar layers and embellishments that make the songs more epic sounding and much more interesting to listen to. It wasn’t a drastic change because all the core elements of Immolation are still in tact, but it was something that we felt helped make the songs stronger in delivery and dynamics.
Just as Life, after ages of struggle, evolved that wonderful bodily organ the eye, so that the living organism could see where it was going and what was coming to help or threaten it, and thus avoid a thousand dangers that formerly slew it, so it is evolving today a mind’s eye that shall see, not the physical world, but the purpose of life, and thereby enable the individual to work for that purpose instead of thwarting and baffling it by setting up shortsighted personal aims as at present.
– George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903)
Recent Immolation albums use melody lines with more “space” in them (are less chromatic), and emphasize harmony as well as allowing the solo to fit the themes of the song, making for more easily-recognized songs. What inspired you to explore music in this way?
Changes such as these just happen naturally as we grow as musicians and song writers. There was no conscious effort to add more melody; it just felt right at the time. Some of these embellishments are worked on before we get into the studio, but on the last album, most of the extra guitar parts were written and performed on the spot while Bob was tracking his leads, and this was the first time he really went in there with no preparation. He would loop the solo sections and just play over them until we found something that we liked and then he would build on it.
The instrumental “The Struggle of Hope and Horror” took a full day to add all the extra guitar overlays and solos. There is so much going on in that song it’s hard to even comprehend what went into it, and yet the finished product wouldn’t lead the listener to believe there are that many guitar tracks because everything blends together and works as one piece. It’s all done to give the songs more depth and personality, to create something different that’s both dark and musical in an epic way.
As a band of over twenty years, you have had to work substantially to maintain a level of quality that many never achieve even briefly. It seems a substantial number of death metal bands from the late 80s/early 90s burned out quickly, creating great works and then evaporating. One might guess that their creative abilities were more spontaneous and fleeting than yours. Do you think the difference between these “methods” of creation is obvious when hearing something initially, or after some study with it? How do you, as a band or as individuals, avoid becoming complacent?
I don’t think this would be apparent initially in any band. As we mentioned earlier, our first record had a lot of our personal influences mixed in throughout the album, and it did take us a few albums before we really crafted the band into what it was meant to be from the beginning. So I would think it would take some time, and some bands never made it to this point, and the bands that did, it was only the beginning of the hard work.
Once we fine tuned everything to fit our vision, then it became more of a challenge to move that vision forward, develop it in a way that wouldn’t compromise the “essence” of the band but enhance it and make it into what it is today. And even now as we are writing new material for the next album, we are still trying to make things better, stay true to what we are, and enjoy the process! It never ends, this creative drive never ends for us, we are still like a bunch of excited kids when the writing process kicks in, and this is why we keep doing it.
This isn’t something we do to pay the bills, it’s not a job and it’s not a chore, its something we are truly passionate about. It is something that each one of us needs in our lives, because without it, our lives would have a huge void. It’s very hard to convey this feeling to some people, but it is like a drug, a powerful driving force that we enjoy following year after year, record after record. So this is what kills complacency, our love for what we do and our passion and drive to move it forward and improve on it.
I could write a thesis on all the influences that I think I hear in Immolation. There’s something that sounds like Voivod, and an acknowledged Mercyful Fate influence, as well as sometimes some Iron Maiden. On Harnessing Ruin and nearer, I hear variations on themes Black Sabbath introduced. What are your most influential influences? Have you found yourself leaning more toward some and less toward others as your songwriting style has evolved?
Well, you are spot on with everything you just mentioned. VoiVod was a definite influence, especially the first three records, and as you know, Mercyful Fate is a huge influence on us as well. Iron Maiden was both mine and Bob’s favorite band back in the 80’s, and a huge influence on myself as well (Steve Harris is the guy who got me playing bass). Black Sabbath has inspired everyone playing metal today, and if they deny it, they are lying!!!! These bands were the beginning of the road for us, the foundation, and they have all left their mark on us as fans and musicians.
Honestly, we are very open minded when it comes to music, and our personal musical tastes are all over the map, so most of our inspiration over the last 10 years or so has been from more non-metal acts rather than from the old classics. This is true especially with Bob, and if you ask him, he will tell you himself that it’s the non-metal stuff that inspires him to try new and different things, but in a way that would work itself into our style of music.
We are very picky and try real hard to sound different and unique, so knowing what’s out there helps us to stay the way we are without unintentionally writing something that sounds similar to another band. For the last few records I think we have all been on the same page musically, and we know what we want to achieve, so we really use our past records as a sort of template to guide us. We know what works for us and what does not, and although we do try different things with each record, they are very subtle and do not distract form the core of the band.
You write almost exclusively on religious themes that are unnervingly well-versed in Christian theology. Many metal bands seem to use fantasy or metaphor to express ideas that would become too mundane if made political, psychological, etc., preferring the more poetic symbolism as poets like John Milton and William Wordsworth did. How did you discover this way of expressing yourself, and what effect do you hope it will have?
We have always shared the same feelings when it came to religion, and although religion played a small part in our earlier lives, to some degree this inspired us to move lyrically in this direction. We have always tried to be as honest with our lyrics as possible. We are writing about our personal feelings and giving our perspective on different aspects of the world around us, whether it be religion, war or personal demons.
I think our bluntness and honesty shines through and it gives the listener the ability to relate to what we are saying on a more personal level, which makes it more powerful. Again, I think we have always taken our lyrics as seriously as the music itself, and have always believed the two worked together hand in hand to drive home the point of our music. Over the years, as with the music and song writing, I believe we have also come along way in the lyrical department.
Since the Unholy Cult album, Bob has had a much more active role in the lyric writing process, and I think the result has been much stronger and much more personal lyrics that go beyond just the religious themes we had written about earlier on. Prior to that, it was really just myself writing the lyrics, a lot of times building the song around just a title or a basic idea that our first guitarist Tom would throw my way. After four albums, it became more difficult to deliver fresh ideas without sounding redundant or without rehashing something that we had already done, so to have a fresh point of view be introduced into the mix was something that I was extremely happy about.
Music does not express this or that particular and definite joy, this or that sorrow, or pain, or horror, or delight, or merriment, or peace of mind; but joy, sorrow, pain, horror, delight, merriment, peace of mind themselves, to a certain extent in the abstract, their essential nature, without accessories, and therefore without their motives. Yet we completely understand them in this extracted quintescence. Hence it arises that our imagination is so easily excited by music, and now seeks to give form to that invisible yet actively moved spirit world which speaks to us directly, and to clothe it with flesh and blood, i. e. to embody it in an analogous example.
This is the origin of the song with words, and finally of the opera, the text of which should therefore never forsake that subordinate position in order to make itself the chief thing and the music the mere means of expressing it, which is a great misconception and a piece of utter perversity; for music always expresses only the quintescence of life and its events, and never these themselves, and therefore their differences do not always affect it. It is precisely this universality, which belongs exclusively to it, together with the greatest determinateness, that gives music the high worth which it has as the panacea for all our woes. Thus if music is too closely united to words, and tries to form itself according to the events, it is striving to speak a language which is not its own.
– Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (1819)
Your exhaustive touring (and longevity) brings you into contact with many of the newer acts (and fans) and every perceivable trend within metal. Could you comment on anything notable you’ve seen develop recently (or ever), how you tolerate the worst of it and to what degree you’ve subsumed some of the best?
We have certainly seen a lot of bands and trends come and go over the last 21 years, and we have also seen extreme metal go back underground at times, and come back out into the forefront at other times. Through it all we try mainly to stay focused on what we need to do and not what is going on around us. We knew we would still continue to push forward regardless of the trends and popularity of the music. What everyone else did never really concerned us.
Of course we were always aware of what was going on around us, but it never influenced us either way. We were always about introducing our music to as many different people as we could, and felt that the only way to do this was to tour a lot and get out there and do as much as humanly possible to get the music out there. We feel that this has helped us tremendously where the label support has not. Our willingness to get out there despite the odds and promote on our own is what has carried the band this far.
I would say as a whole, we are happy with the exposure the extreme metal scene has received in the last few years; it has achieved a sort of acceptance within the mainstream to a degree. I don’t mean to say it will ever be mainstream, because I don’t ever see that happening, and this is a good thing, but it is visible now where it was only visible back in the late 80’s in black and white fanzines and on college radio. Now we see coverage in full color metal and music magazines all over the world, on MTV and all the other major video networks, on lager scale tours that can attract more mainstream headliners to expose the music to a larger fan base.
So these are all positive things that have come to light in the last few years. Its just less of an uphill battle these days. Of course there will always be the trends and terrible bands that come out of nowhere and get a lot of hype and exposure thrown their way, which is a bit frustrating at times, but they eventually disappear into the unknown where they belong, and we live to fight another day…..hahahaha.
Here in After is your most complex album and a favorite of many a metal head. What made you elect to take the technical metal high road, and why did you opt for more straightforward songwriting after that? Did a technical riff-fest not express what you hoped it had, and if so, how do newer methods do this?
Here in After is our most complex album along with Failures for Gods, which I feel is even more complex in a lot of ways. Here in After was our second album, and this came after a long period of not writing any new material because we were in between labels, so it was about a five year period between the first and second albums, which in most cases would have been career suicide for most new bands, or a quick ride to superstar status to most bands today who come back after a long hiatus.
For us it was just business as usual. We were at that critical sophomore album phase, and knew there would be a little pressure to write something as good if not better than the first album which did really good for us for the time and amount of promotion. I can say that we never really made any conscious decision to take any technical metal high road; in fact, we never really felt this material was really that technical compared to some of the more tech bands out there. Sure, it had tons of tempo changes and many different parts coming and going, but I never considered it technical because we weren’t technical players, and I felt that if we were able to pull it off, it could not have been that technical.
Let’s just say the songs were a little too busy and involved for their own good at times. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, and after the Failures For Gods album, we knew where we needed to improve the songs and how to do it. The problem with these albums, especially Failures For Gods was that there were so many great riffs that were never allowed to make their mark, they came in for a quick measure and were gone again and we were on to a new part.
Looking back, we could have probably written an entirely separate album just with all the extra riffs that were not needed in these first two records. I know to some of our die hard old school fans this talk is blasphemy, but its how we feel, and we have made conscious attempts from Close To a World Below to the present to change this, which I hope had made things better. It has for us, so that’s what really matters to us in the end. We have to be happy in order to continue.
It seems to me that Harnessing Ruin got a mixed reception in some underground circles because of the use of more “mainstream” techniques, like the whispered introduction to one song, and some of the “bouncier” drumming. However, this album also showcases some of the finest fusion of professional songwriting — using melody, harmony, rhythm and structure together — with savage death metal technique. Are you trying to compete with, or be better than, the newer styles of death metal-hybridized popular metal? What have the successes and challenges of this approach been?
I think this was an important album for us because it showcased our efforts to make the songs stronger and more direct by cutting out all the excess stuff not necessary and getting to the point much quicker.
As far as the whispering parts go, we did use the whisper vocals as a complete second vocal track under the main vocal on the song “After My Prayers” on the first album. I got the inspiration to do this from The Doors “Riders on the Storm”, which has that whisper track under the main vocal throughout the song, and I loved that creepy effect it had and wanted to try it behind a Death Metal vocal. Although it was very subtle, it had a similar effect. So the whisper thing was done not as a ticket to mainstream acceptance, not in the least, but as a way to create a different vocal dynamic since I was opposed to the clear vocal approach, and the whispered parts were suggestive of an inner voice, and they gave the heavier Death Metal vocal parts much more power and authority when they came roaring in (especially in “Son of Iniquity”, which is probably one of our darkest and heaviest songs both musically and lyrically).
Since the songs were more stripped down and to the point, it really allowed all the dark melodies to come right to the surface, and I think it gave some of our former critics a new appreciation of the band, which was a positive thing and helped to attract new fans to our shows. Are we trying to compete with other bands out there? No, we have never done this to be better than anyone else, we try just to better ourselves and make Immolation the best it can be.
We do what we do, and I feel we are unique and different enough to stand out among all the many great and not so great bands out there today. We are competitive only when it comes to working harder with each new release to make it hopefully as good and as strong as its predecessor. I think with what we achieved on the Harnessing Ruin record, it allowed us to make an even stronger follow up album with Shadows in the Light, and hopefully we will carry this forward to the new album.
Are there any skills you have learned from being a death metal band that can be applied to other areas of life?
It’s all about hard work, conviction, following what you believe in and are passionate about and realizing that not everything in life has to be what the rest of society expects of you. Its ok to be an individual, a free thinker, and someone who is willing to disagree with popular opinion at the expense of being outcast from some circles, but that’s fine as long as you are true to yourself.
I have a great family who always supported me, so I was always fortunate to have that support group behind me, but it still was a question of juggling your passions with your priorities. I learned how to work and be responsible at an early age to allow myself to be a touring musician with a full time job waiting for me when I came home. I learned early on that this would probably never pay the bills and it was something I think we all accepted early on, which made us very practical and realistic with our decisions. I learned that nothing comes easy in life, and with out dedication and hard work it was impossible to move forward with any endeavor.
These were all things I have learned from being in the band. We learned always to expect the worst, and if something good came out of the situation it was never taken for granted. And if you consider living out of a suitcase in a van with six other guys for a few months every year for the last 21 years, eating shitty road food, sleeping in rest stop parking lots and taking sink showers while living the dream is a skill, then we can add that to the list…..hahaha. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Did learning music theory, and becoming better musicians, help you in expressing your ideas? How did it do so?
Strangely enough, we never learned music theory, actually other than a couple of lessons when we were much younger, our musical training was more hands on. I learned how to play bass from a buddy of mine when I was like 13, and a few years later I took a few lessons locally, but I never learned how to read music or any of that stuff. I just always had a good ear for music, and had a knack for figuring things out for myself, and the same went for Bob, although he does know how to read music, but never had any music theory either.
I think this may have helped us instead of hurt us because we never see any limitations when writing or arranging songs, we do what feels right, so it was never an issue. I think the same goes for Bill as well, but Steve I believe had more training as a drummer and this definitely shows in his performance, execution and ability to figure out things very quickly and accurately. Becoming better musicians, which was a very gradual process, definitely helped us not only write better songs, but it allowed us to play better and more confidently live.
I am still learning and getting better with each album, its always an ongoing process for me as well as the other guys. I am pushed to improve my playing as our songs get more evolved and playing shows night after night is the best way in my opinion to get better as a musician.
But it was Schopenhauer who first defined the position of Music among the fine arts with philosophic clearness, ascribing to it a totally different nature from that of either plastic or poetic art. He starts from wonder at Music’s speaking a language immediately intelligible by everyone, since it needs no whit of intermediation through abstract concepts (Begriffe); which completely distinguishes it from Poetry, in the first place, whose sole material consists of concepts, employed by it to visualise the Idea.
For according to this philosopher’s so luminous definition it is the Ideas of the world and of its essential phenomena, in the sense of Plato, that constitute the ‘object’ of the fine arts; whereas, however, the Poet interprets these Ideas to the visual consciousness (dem anschauenden Bewusstsein) through an employment of strictly rationalistic concepts in a manner quite peculiar to his art, Schopenhauer believes he must recognise in Music itself an Idea of the world, since he who could entirely translate it into abstract concepts would have found withal a philosophy to explain the world itself.
– Richard Wagner, Beethoven (1870)
Jim Morrison (THE DOORS) sang and wrote repeatedly of a “frontier,” or a no man’s land where chaos and conflict ruled, but also open spaces were present. Was he speaking existentially, politically, or both, and how does this apply to music that loves nature (red in tooth and claw), destruction, emptiness and melancholy loneliness?
I kind of think he was talking about the capacity of humans to have this chaos and conflict struggling together with our feelings and the other beliefs we have learned throughout our lives as we grow and experience the world, and how to determine which is real and which is not, and which means something and which does not.
I think this frontier is within us, in our own minds, along with the inner struggles and conflicts we experience on a daily basis. The world is what it is, we are what ultimately decides our course and place in it to some extent, and I think this frontier to some degree is the unknown, the future, what lies around every turn in life, each new moment. Now, how does this apply to music?
It’s these inner conflicts and feelings that force us to look at the big picture, figure things out and to make choices. As an example, I am an atheist, and although I never really bought in to the whole religion thing, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I finally decided I was done with all religion, and music gave me an outlet to express all these feelings I had all along. There were many years of this “going through the motions” phase when I had my doubts about the whole thing, but kept it inside until it all came to the surface and I faced the reality of the situation on my own terms.
Morrison had a lot of chaos going on in his head, and between his lyrics and poetry this was apparent, but how it’s interpreted is an individual thing of course.
Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art? What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?
I think it is art. When it is done for no other reason other than the pure passion of it, it is definitely art.
Entertainment is made with the purpose of entertaining others, so it is designed in a way to appeal to others, whereas art I feel is more personal, and done for yourself with no compromises and no care whether others will approve. We have always written music for ourselves, and the fact that others like what we do makes it a form of entertainment I guess, but that is not the sole intention or motivation for us to write music.
The two often overlap, when art becomes trendy or cool and all of a sudden is in demand, it becomes entertainment in this way, but it still doesn’t change the motivations when it was created. Music it seems rides along right in the middle, existing as art initially but becoming entertainment. When we perform, sure, it is entertainment for our fans, but when we are writing, it is definitely art, so there is a fine line between the two when it comes to music.
Do musicians end up writing death metal because it expresses their thoughts or worldview, and if so, does this produce any compatibility between views? In other words, do people who see the world in similar ways make similar music with similar topic matter and imagery? Does this mean the genre can be said to have a culture or philosophy of its own?
Well, I really can’t speak for anyone else, but I would imagine and would like to think musicians use their music to express their thoughts and feelings, whether it be on religion, or just their take on the world. For us, Death Metal was the perfect vehicle for conveying our feelings, sometimes angry, bitter and sad, but ultimately to express ourselves through the music.
I don’t think musicians sharing similar views will necessarily create the same types of music, because music is an individual thing and it is personal. Our music is very aggressive and powerful with a lot of heaviness, dark melodies, and very haunting at times, and this certainly reflects what the lyrics are saying. Some bands do have something to say in their music that is real and will make people think, other bands like to go in a different direction and create lyrics that are fantasy, pure entertainment for the listener, which is also fine, and we have also incorporated some of this to drive home our point on some occasions, but I think for the most part we fall into the first category.
We usually have something to say, and we don’t like to be preachy about it, but we like to present it in such a way that it does paint a bleak picture, and I think this certainly drives home the point quicker once you understand what the point of the song is. This genre definitely has a culture AND a philosophy all of its own.
Most of the bands we have toured with are on the same page with regards to politics, world views and views on religion, so it is a common thread that I have found. Of course we sometimes have differences of opinion, which is normal, but overall I would say there is a like minded mentality with bands playing extreme music.
Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. Is this true, and is this type of composition reflected in your songwriting?
I would agree with this. Most lyrics tell a story, whether it be fact or fiction, and this would certainly apply to us. We try to get our point across in an interesting way, and to create a story that is dark, powerful and unique to drive this point home is the ultimate goal. Creating the lyrics is always one of the coolest parts of the song writing process.
I have always found it easier to write lyrics when the music is already completed, because then I get a feel for the song, and this is very inspiring when trying to pen the lyrics. Sometimes the mood of the song dictates the tone of the lyrics and the topic as well. A lot of times we will have a lot of lyrical ideas that need a home, so we will go through the music to get a feel for the songs and see what topics will fit with these songs. It’s not really something that requires a lot of thought usually, it either feels right or it doesn’t.
When you write songs, do you start with a (visual, musical, lyrical) concept for the whole song, or do you save up riff ideas and fit them together?
In the past, Bob would compose one song at a time, which would take much too long because he would either get caught up trying to figure out where to take the song, or he would just get writers block and the whole song would be on hold until the riff reservoir was full again. This was a very frustrating process at times, and we could literally spend over a month on one song before moving on to something new.
For the last few albums, Bob will record riffs onto a multi track or now into his computer, program some basic drum beats to them, and then move on to the next riff. This way we are all listening to the riffs as he is creating them, and when the time comes, when we have plenty of good solid parts, we get together and start piecing them together. This way we never get stuck on one song, we can always move on and come back to it any time, and we can try many different things to make the songs work well, flow well and sound their absolute best.
Now that he is doing everything on his computer, he can e-mail all the parts to our drummer Steve in Ohio, and he basically knows the material before we even practice together as a band. Once we have a song arrangement, we build on it from there, changing the drum parts, altering tempos, determining where we want the leads to go, where the vocals would work best, and what parts need something to make them really stand out. So this is basically the process for us.
Music is thus by no means like the other arts, the copy of the Ideas, but the copy of the will itself, whose objectivity these Ideas are. This is why the effect of music is much more powerful and penetrating than that of the other arts, for they speak only of shadows, but it speaks of the thing itself.
– Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (1819)
Have the sonic values of metal music changed from the early 90s? How and why?
I think you may be referring to production values. If you are, then this has definitely changed. I remember recording on to 2 inch tape, and this was very time consuming, especially when tracking drums, because you couldn’t punch in for drums as easily as you could for guitars, vocals or bass. This really wasted a lot of time and was also very frustrating after being in the studio for 12 hours and accomplishing nothing. Digital recording made analog recording totally obsolete for extreme metal bands, because now you could save time on the tracking, and use that time to get the mix right.
We aren’t talking about huge recording budgets here, so the reality is that you had to get everything done in a few weeks time or you would have to start spending some of your own money. What kids look for in production these days is totally different than when I was 14 or 15 years old. When I heard early Venom, early Possessed, early Sodom, Destruction etc., I never complained if the drums weren’t crystal clear, or if each instrument was distinct in the mix; I listened to it as a whole, and enjoyed it as a whole and never dissected it too much.
Now, these early productions would be laughed at by kids today if they were released now. That is the difference, it was about the feeling of the music, the music as a whole, not the perfect production that made me a fan. Honestly, if those bands back then had these super productions of today, they would lose something and they probably wouldn’t have had an impact like they did, to me at least.
Although your music is technical, you have taken pains to distance yourselves from technicality for technicality’s sake. What is the difference between technicality, progression and good (death metal) art?
As I have always said, it’s all about the feeling. It’s never about the speed, the heaviness, the technicality, the production, the solos or how deep or not the vocals are, it’s about the feeling. Nothing else matters, and none of these elements define Death Metal to me. If these elements are used in the right way to create a mood or feeling, then that’s when they matter, otherwise you can be as technical and fast and heavy as you want, if you can’t write a song with feeling then who cares. Death metal to me has a certain dark, haunting and ominous feel, and when I hear it, it is truly music to my ears, but if I don’t, then its just another band out of thousands, with nothing new to bring to the table.
The author Kurt Vonnegut famously referred to art as a canary in a coal mine, or a warning signal for society. Other artists, notably romantics, have claimed that art serves a necessary role in celebration of life. Still others believe it should celebrate the artist. Where, if anywhere, do these views intersect, and is it possible for art to exist as a discrete one of them and not as an intersection?
Again, this is a personal thing, and art means different things to different people. Art can be all of these things, or none depending on who you ask. I seem to think all of these apply to some degree. For some, music is a canary in a coal mine, it is that escape from the dark and mundane repetitions of life. For others, it has a strong message that people read into and get, and it moves them to see things in a different light, thus becoming a sort of warning signal for society.
It is a celebration of life, because music generally brings out all sorts of emotions and moods, memories and events, certain periods in our life, and sometimes it even helped us to get through these periods. It is the artist that is remembered and celebrated in a sense when we go to see a performance or an exhibit, so I think all of these apply. Art takes us to a different place we don’t go to that often because we sometimes get so easily swept away in the currents of day to day life, but when we do get to that place, it does make us think and celebrate life in our own personal ways.
You’ve now put out a successful album (Shadows in the Light), an EP with an accompanying live performance that is in my view one of the best representations of metal on video record, and gone on a successful tour. What’s next? Do you have long-term plans beyond the next couple years, or are you just taking life as it comes?
At the moment, we are working on new material, which will be our 8th full length, and after 21 years, I still feel we have more to say and do. We still feel as passionate about our music as we did when we first started in 1988, and fortunately for us, that fire still burns strong within us. We try not to look too far ahead, one album at a time, one touring cycle at a time, and once we move past that, we take a break, take a breath and start planning for the next one. We love doing this and will continue until its not fun anymore or until we just physically can’t do it anymore.
Thanks for the truly great interview. I really enjoyed it and now have to give my hands a rest from typing!
But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.
– Plato, The Republic (360 BC)
When artists lose direction they lack coherence. To fix that, they streamline their work and try to imitate the popular stuff that people were fleeing when they listened to these artists in the first place.
In the metal and krautrock genres, which have similar musical roots, this means you turn something similar to classical music into rhythmic rock ballads. This is how most metal sounds today, because it’s the easiest format to embrace: let the song become a variation on a known them and a superficial backdrop for a generic beat, include some death metal fillers to make it interesting, and then add random themes from horror movies. For the krautrock scene, artistic decline is very much the same.
Whatever happened with Tangerine Dream after Peter Baumann left the stage, no one knows, but it’s safe to say that the band started to decline shortly after releasing “Stratosfear” in 1976. Following that period, TD released three albums that barely qualify as very good, “Tangram” probably being the champion. With Johannes Schmoelling on the keyboards, this is an unexpected gem–more polished and simple, to be sure, but strangely dense and information-intensive. It sounds like a new age quartet, mixing layers of synth collages, rhythmic pulses and dreamy melodies, all into an epic format. If the early albums celebrated the spirit of ancient civilizations, “Tangram” is about joyfully discovering your inner child, and contrasting it against your present existence.
Take this classic album and let Tangerine Dream 2008 modernize it for its new audience. Aside from a small layer of sound effects, they’ve added a generic beat as rhythmic foundation for the actual musical content. Did I say rhythmic foundation? What made early TD so great was that they sounded like a modern classical orchestra. The music wasn’t restrained by neither rhythm nor predictable harmony, as in rock music and most metal. Thanks to the open format, these geniuses could improvise on the spot, and still compose music that is structured and layered according to emotional logic.
Like listening to classical music, a classic Tangerine Dream listen “makes sense” in a emotional way, because it’s a growth, or an adventure, and not a static backdrop. Tangerine Dream 2008 has instead destroyed its classic compositions by forcing them into the tedious rock song format model — one that later also came to make most of Klaus Schulze’s stuff boring to listen to.No Comments
Gratifying to see this:
here are a couple types to watch out for:
3. He’s heavily invested in his “persona.” We all know guys like this. Richard is the crazy life-of-the-party guy! Then there’s Jon, the sarcastic intellectual. Dean is heavily influenced by 1940s gangster style; his clothing is all vintage, and his apartment is like a time capsule circa your granny.
While these dudes might be appealing, they rarely get real. Richard may be charming, but being around someone who’s always “on” is exhausting. Jon may be the smartest guy you’ve ever met, but he can also be the cruelest. And Dean? Well, he’s hot, but he spends so much time looking back, how can he possibly look towards the future?
Beware of these types in metal, too. Richard’s only into metal from weird places, like Nigeria and Utah! Jon may know everything about ultra-raw black metal, but he doesn’t seem to find the good in any of it. Dean? Well, he’s busy promoting his band, which sounds totally generic, while harshing on Immortal for “selling out” — on Pure Holocaust.
The hipster is anyone who is directed outward for inward affirmation. You need to know your own self-worth because you have a spine and do what’s right or what’s beautiful or what’s powerful. If you can’t do that, you’ll become a hipster, hiding yourself in a camouflage of “fascinating”|”unique”|”weird”|”funky” outward stuff so you don’t have to look into your empty soul and hear the echo of a dropped pin.3 Comments
The Syriac language provided the greatest historical conduit for Christianity, and early Christians knew its words as literal symbols from the world beyond. Beherit was its name for the god of evil, sometimes called Satan. Fast forward two thousand years and occult-literate Finns made this ancient word a conduit for a new form of aural evil, a simultaneously deconstructive and reconstructive ambient aura of apocalypse and a literal, fearful reality hiding beneath the neurotic cloak of our modern society. We were fortunate to be able to speak to Nuclear Holocausto about his motivations, the nature of music, and the forthcoming 2009 Beherit album.
For a musician in this time who has understood his own experience, what are the most important aspects of art? (Or is it even possible to create a universal list?)
It’s a bio harmonic resonance, but BEHERIT is back to destroy art. I had very intensive two months, by writing new songs and re-creating the spirit of the BEHERIT sound. I think it turned out to be quite okay, kind of a mixture of all previous releases. It’s yet to be mastered and is missing booklet artwork… but hopefully will be released in the second quarter of 2009 by Spinefarm Records. I don’t have plans to reveal any detailed information regarding the coming album, its style or maneuvers behind the concept before the release.
You’ve just created a new BEHERIT album. Did you design it to be like previous BEHERIT albums, a continuation of an idea, or something new entirely?
Yes, the album is called ENGRAM. It’s a time warp to THE LORD DIABOLUS continuum.
How did you record the new album? Did you write all of it, and then meet collaborators to get it on tape?
I wrote and composed the album by myself. I recorded a demo version in my home studio with tablatures and a few written notes about what kind of spirit I was looking for in that song. Then we went to the rehearsal room and for the next week I made some small changes in song structure that made it easier and more natural to play live. Rehearsal period was about three months. We had 60 minutes of raw material when entering the studio. Couple of tracks we didn’t have time to finish.
Outside of music, how are you exploring the concepts which motivated you to create BEHERIT?
I recently bought a new video camera and have found this hobby very compelling, the use of sound and visuals to create deep atmospheres/altered states.
Why do you usually work and release things in the phases of the moon, or is it something you cannot control?
I like to plan my projects in the phases of the moon. For me, there is a natural difference between the things you process on waxing or waning gibbous. Especially on nights of the full moon, it’s good to pay extra attention on your karma.
With Suuri Shamaani, you are playing with raw sound, but the question becomes not your tools (raw sound, or scales) but the organization of that sound to express some difference of outlook achieved through experience. How do you organize this sound, and how does this process compare to that of writing metal?
I am very fascinated by the potential to experience some ueber-crossover between genres like black metal, dubstep, doom metal and ambient. There’s some artists who have successfully melded electronic music to rock, but I think most of their audience is still very average type of people (whom see the music more like entertainment or a consumer product of show business). Perhaps the biggest challenge is in a composition. For a basic metal head, it could be pretty challenging to listen (much less to write) non-standard music, I mean something outside of popular radio song structure (verse/chorus/bridge…)
What degree of familiarity with music theory do you have, and has this changed since Drawing Down the Moon?
I know only very little of music in theory. Maybe I have learned to tune my guitar faster, but not much else. In BEHERIT, we keep things primitive.
When you write songs, do you start with a (visual, musical, lyrical) concept for the whole song, or do you save up riff ideas and fit them together?
After the initial idea, I have a riff and couple of variations. Then some words that stimulate my mind to visualize the atmosphere. Later some variation in tempo, bassline and rhythm. The last part is to rewrite some lyrical content. This may vary a lot depending on the project.
Do humans live through experience?
Living entities look for happiness, and to avoid suffering. This is true not only for humans, but animals as well. I think this is the very basic principle. Animals have a hard enough time getting their food and avoiding getting killed, but humans seek their happiness from materialism or very temporary states of happiness, like sex, drugs or love…
I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.
Whoever is the wisest among you is also a mere conflict and cross between plant and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?
Behold, I teach you the overman! The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go!
– Friedrich W. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885)
Do you compose on keyboard, guitar or in your head?
New BEHERIT songs emerge and are developed in my head. That material I try to save as quickly as possible by guitar or keys to a recorder. A year ago I invested to Ableton Live software. It did help a lot in my productivity. For a musician like me, there’s a big difference with Ableton compared to older, a linear time scale based sequencer.
On Drawing Down the Moon, you achieved a unique dark and bassy sound which was not in favor in black metal at the time. How was this done? Did you replicate it on the new album?
Back in 1993, recording studios were still mostly analog. The guitar sound was as simple as Boss Heavy Metal guitar distortion pedal through an old Marshall bass amplifier and cabinet. I don’t remember what microphones were used, but everything was done in a few days. No time to remake or mix, thus the raw sound. The studio is still up and running. Very professional people there. The home of Tarot.
We didn’t want to reproduce the sound of Drawing Down the Moon, but as always try look for new soundspheres.
How was the early blackmetal scene different from how people perceive it now, and what were some challenges you faced as one of the few early blackmetal bands?
People used to describe our bands, like “some satanic stuff”, but today Black Metal has become a well known symbol for the majority, mostly because of the Internet. Most of these younger fans have pretty twisted image of the scene of old days. People didn’t like black metal at all, everything was so small, you kind of know all the music makers in the scene (via flyers in tape trading scene, + fanzines) Most of the people fucking hated us BEHERIT, IMPALED NAZARENE… Drawing Down The Moon was self-funded by me and I had to sell my car, became homeless, and everything I had was that master tape and no label interested to release it, before Spinefarm. I am still thankful to ’em, because of the advance royalty.
Do you think that given the same stimulus, two logical beings will have similar responses?
The response to given stimulus is much about the previous experience to similar contact in sense.
And if this is so, does it not mean that anyone who encounters a similar experience to someone else, has the same forces interacting on them? That if we have one stood out in the rain, we can all know what it is like? Maybe this shows how experience and intuition can exist on the same level. Experience is also important, because it enables us to store memories as symbols, and then trade on those symbols in law, art and conversation.
Like those others have never experienced of getting wet in the rain? They would still feel the same as the one who’s in the rain? Then there should be a sense contact within this tribe that can somehow communicate lower/higher states. I know this is possible, but very rare in normal conditions… we cannot “release the self” that easily, because of our fear (of dying).
What are your influences, and are these shared among band members, and if not wholly, what other influences do they have? Other metal musicians have mentioned Kraftwerk, for example; were there metal and ambient works that influenced you more than anything else? Any classical or folk music?
We all four are big fans of BLASPHEMY, BLACK WITCHERY, IMPIETY, MANTICORE and other fast stuff. Sodomatic plays drums in punk bands and listens to industrial music. He’s a vinyl collector. Abyss, the bassist is very much into Viking stuff, like BATHORY and FALKENBACH. He has also his own projects, more technical style, like he could have more riffs per song than BEHERIT on entire album. Serpent is working on Spikefarm and listens mostly to rehearsal and demo material from unsigned bands. THE LORD DIABOLUS was the biggest influence on this new album.
Is our fear of “evil” hardwired? For example, humans seem to fear snakes without having ever seen one, suggesting that fear of snakes is wired into our genetic code.
The fear of reptiles might be encoded in DNA — I don’t know. But when a man walks in the dark woods, fear of the unknown makes a wooden stick or a rope to appear like an image of dangerous snake. That’s why we should not trust our senses.
Is it possible then that some experiences are defined by the similarity of contact, and are inherent (in the sense of “emergent”) to the design of the universe itself?
I do understand the logic in fractality of universe, like many universes in smaller scales. The most of the cultures of our civilization is based on wrong believes of gods and myths. We simply have wrong views of life. The problem is that only very few people have seen the truth, the nature of time existence. Parents put their kids to school to teach ’em reading and mathematics, but too often they think it’s enough to make those kids to survive in a modern world.
We have built our cultures to praise the bold and the beautiful; the weak and ugly easily drops out from the so-called “easy life” because of the competition (evolution). I don’t care much about this, because it’s somehow universal, “natural evolution.” But this system leads to very problematic scenarios in the world we have built, because the weaker get many and they can get temporarily very strong by modern weapons.
From that comes “terrorism” and “the police state.” And all this mostly happens because society is from the very beginning based on incorrect views. Ouch, I am getting to off topic now…Yes, the nature of the world of the senses is polycausal, indeed.
Human ability, even really stupid humans, to retain music has always seemed magical to me, as if it had some inherent function in the universe. What do you think it is that humans unconsciously perceive?
Heavy metal seems to share many values with Romantic art and literature from two centuries ago, right before Nietzsche began writing: reverence for nature, belief in a transcendental but not dualistic life, independence from humanist morality, desire to create the beautiful and eternal, searching for truth with the self as the lens but not the focus. Do you feel any of these in your own creation?
I have an artistic desire, but haven’t thought much of connection to Romanticism. I think most of my creations are born in some sort abstract space with no human wrong or right. I don’t have a personal manifesto or any political interest in my music, but this does not necessarily mean that our songs are utter headlessness. I always try to be very mindful in a work I am doing. Even with BEHERIT.
After the initial BEHERIT surge, did you continue liking metal music?
I end up liking new fake bands that turn out to be nothing but boring. I did not stop listening to metal music entirely, but I found more interesting and deeper aspects of art in noise and electronic music.
“Behold this gateway, dwarf!” I continued. “It has two faces. Two paths meet here; no one has yet followed either to its end. This long lane stretches back for an eternity. And the long lane out there, that is another eternity. They contradict each other, these paths; they offend each other face to face; and it is here at this gateway that they come together. The name of the gateway is inscribed above: ‘Moment.’ But whoever would follow one of them on and on, farther and farther — do you believe, dwarf, that these paths contradict each other eternally?”
“All that is straight lies,” the dwarf murmured contemptuously. “All truth is crooked; time itself is a circle.”
– Friedrich W. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885)
Have you ever considered writing a symphony (or: quartet, trio, sonata, et al)?
Yes, but I have yet to find people and a unique concept worth to start such a big project. Especially interested in video, together with musical performance on the front of live audience.
Ambient is a broad category; dubstep is more limited. How would you combine black metal’s cadenced rhythm with the jauntier, syncopated-expectation structures of dubstep?
On various layers of soundscape. I think there will come such a crossover projects in this near future. It may not please the old school metal purist, but the next generation of audience who search for an aural experience rather than a general idol worship of rock band.
Electric Doom Synthesis was black metal thematics in violent EBM, with metal song structures. How do you envision a future fusion between metal and ambient music?
I didn’t have much knowledge of making electronic music at the time of recording Electric Doom Synthesis. I composed it on the very simple sequencer of E-Mu Emax II sampler. Of course if I had to do it again now I would do some parts in a different way, but the album has a lock on time and atmosphere that I was living that time. After that my interest moved towards the other edge of music, experimental sounds, drone and minimalism, thus the release of Suuri Shamaani which were recorded without any real instruments, most of the sounds sampled from radio frequencies.
I used to listen to hours and hours of simple waveforms on evolving space, not so called music at all, more like mathematics and experience of altered states. Calculating planetary system and trying to put these parameters to sounds. I even did some gigs playing those test frequencies to large audiences, but quite soon I found myself playing on the front of max. twenty people. Soon I was kicked out from every chill out room because people complained my stuff was more like brain fuck than any chill out. I think they were right, I went way too far with that shit.
Nowadays I try to keep these things more in a balance. I am interested for some thing like a band playing metal music with no riffs or metal song structure, but it’s not easy with people who lack experience of the dub of deep house, AND who also understand The Black Metal aesthetics. I’m not sure of this last word in English, but I mean understanding what is “cool” and what is not. The last one is where 99.9% of those demos fail that are otherwise potential to make a major success. Quite likely that it will happen in the industrial music scene, but it’s still yet to come?
What distinguishes great music from bad? Can it be distilled into technique, or is it something less easily defined?
I think it’s not about technique or a lack of it. For me, it’s about originality and functionality.
Okay, this sounds very likely. But due the polycausal nature of life, there’s always some variation in detail… I couldn’t make any final conclusion. I even went through the conditional nature of sounds, acoustic waves that are frequencies like all the other objects in the universe. The sound object itself has no clear “soul,” but it’s fascinating to think of a scenario where the creator (composer) has a causal relation to soundwork put in a distribution, and that the listener receive the given mental sight by this kind of energy transformation, as they both (artist + listener) have same focus point… Something like used on those shamanistic journeys or people told to get a trance-like state on live concerts.
Emotion in music shares one thing with words: it is a language,and when the words have meaning, they create feeling. There is no feeling to the sound itself. It is twelve symbols in three octaves. But it has an inherent symbolism which makes our nerves twitch, like words resemble our thoughts and video, our dreams. From what comes the “meaning” in music?
Mental objects. I was hoping to put this in action on the upcoming BEHERIT album, but it turned to be a way more complex than I first thought. I decided to make an another project for this one, conveying extrasensory perception (ESP) through the sound itself. Coil had this album Time Machine in the early nineties, one of my favorites, that included a pack of cards/ESP stickers…And I had an idea to transfer these mental symbols for listener, but in the studio I found we were running out of time, and that it would work better with more minimalistic material. Well, it’s good to have some ideas + concepts for future projects.
Are there symbols which do not convey experience, but things inherent to the cosmos or wired into our consciousness (intuition)?
Yes and no. Somehow it would be disappointing if humankind doesn’t have a single symbol beyond this life experience, destiny. Even, this symbol of destiny that he created by himself in a past, it is yet to be experienced, in the cosmos? I know the meditators use techniques to visualize the symbol to guide the soul entity on bardo1 states.
Most people are born in ignorance, but it is said the arahant2 ones are able to recall past life experiences. The maya3 of self is generated in microseconds and is stuck in time, when the other end of the string in the cosmos, is in the dimension with no linear time scale. Therefore it’s logical to have symbolism without one’s own experience, but the watcher has to be on the same resonance in space where the manifestation of certain symbol is created.
The world hasn’t changed, nor in the bigger picture, has human life since we were cavemen. Does this mean that our old symbols are accurate, but their meaning unknown, or that we need new symbols? Can the association of a symbol change over time?
We have been drowned into abuse of symbols in logos and trademarks of modern time. The Swastika is a good example of how differently people may feel when seeing it. In older cultures it’s still a holy and very respected symbol painted in important buildings, but in Europe it’s a bit different case. I think the way of life has change quite alot in the last century. You don’t need skills to hunt or make fire, survive in the woods. Now it’s about being a beauty and famous. Anyway, the very basic principles of life are still the same, thus humankind would need no new symbols.
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
– John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819)
If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? Can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture of its own?
Yes, perhaps we could call the true black metal movement a subculture, because of its extremity in narrowness. If you go deeper with other genres you will find they have quite similar group policies, but black metal has developed it very strictly and merciless, elitism? Happily I am already old enough that I don’t care to belong to any groups. But for new bands, I can see how it would be serious business. How true they can be, and for how long? Is evilness restricted only to their internet communication or also to other depths?
Some suggest there is a God outside of this world, and others suggest, in response, that there is no God. If music moves like nerve impulses, and music is inherent to the universe, is it possible the universe itself has a consciousness?
The universe may therefore need an other parallel universe? I think everything is possible, but not necessary.
A friend I respect greatly referred to black metal as possibly the only viable artistic movement of our generation (births 1970-1978). My question would be: what was the fundamental artistic statement of black metal? For example, the Romantics wanted to create a type of existentialism that aimed for an aesthetic and not moral goal, so that it did not fall into either individualism or collectivism, but stayed focused on the beautiful as a way of summarizing multiple aspects and avoiding falling into linear thinking. Is there such a statement for black metal?
Not so long time ago, I wrote to internet forum that black metal is antichristian, but some fellows denied it totally and went to politics, racism and other weird NSBM topics that had nothing to do with black metal of old days. Nowadays everything seem to be much more complicated when kids are seeding their own beliefs and opinions to the scene, even if they are not music makers themselves. We (BEHERIT) wanted to create the most severe and bizarre sound dealing with the dark side of occultism. That’s still one of my main points when writing a new song, but I don’t mind if they label it black metal or not.
Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art? What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?
Yes, at least in opinion of real music lovers, but artists of today live in poverty and are likely to die in poverty. Entertainers try to maximize money making in every way. It’s very rare to see any art happen in entertainment business.
There seems to be a relatively stable, cyclic effect of black/death/speed metal bands breaking up and then reforming for new material approximately 10 years later. What is the cause of this?
It’s the great wheel of artistry. Girls have their periods, sun has its spots, Chinese astrology is a cycle of twelve. Artists have been cursed by the desire of creation.
Is there necessarily a disconnect between how metal viewed things in 1992 and today?
BEHERIT’s dooming sound reminds me of how William Gibson spoke of his post-apocalyptic Neuromancer: it is a horrible world, but you can see yourself wanting to live there, if for nothing else to finish the fight you see characters embarking on. Does this fit in your worldview?
I like William Gibson.
Some argue that love is “sui generis,” or an invention of itself that justifies itself and has no precursor. Others tie love to some form of God and claim he/she/it metes out love where appropriate. Some slightly cynical people see love as a biochemical reaction and nothing more. Still others (cynics) see love as something one can only have for life itself, and as being more of a thought process that unites the irrational (emotions) with rational (thoughts) to give a balanced view of the unquantifiable, and that one has love for life and in it, love for people and places and things. Since the symbol of love is worn out by years of popular music, does it have any meaning now, or must each artist define love before speaking of it, or risk becoming an elaborately removed Britney Spears?
Love is a very powerful state for beings in these sense worlds. For sure it has moments in lucid oneness, beyond time, like loving kindness (metta)4 is a good technique for entities looking for happier abodes. But “love and loving of lovers” represented in popular culture is a broad highway to misery and sadness, endless craving in the wheel of Samsara5. Loving life is not a right way. My advice is to see the conditional structure of love. Go and see the mutilated, dead bodies. Go and get a part time job in a local hospital or at coroner’s office.
Mankind does not represent a development of the better of the stronger in the way that it is believed today. ‘Progress’ is merely a modern idea, that is to say a false idea. The European of today is of far less value than the European of the Renaissance; onward development is not by any means, by any necessity the same thing as elevation, advance, strengthening.
In another sense there are cases of individual success constantly appearing in the most various parts of the earth and fro the most various cultures in which a high type does manifest itself: something which in relation to collective mankind is a sort of superman. Such chance occurrences of great success have always been possible and perhaps always will be possible.
– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ (1895)
Do you separate intent/goal from method, in that a goal can be good and methods “evil,” and how does that influence your view of good and evil?
Things we intentionally do (with a will), speak or think are wholesome or unwholesome in causal perspective of self. I am very trustworthy and generous man in my friendhood. I would not recommend strangers to come with me, if they are not pure in their hearts.
Environmentalists argue for preserving the earth, but many black metal musicians argue for its destruction. Yet earth permits consciousness, and enjoyment of among other things, black metal. Is the statement “blow up the world, I don’t care” a symbol or a real wish?
It’s a perfect time to enlighten oneself. It’s crazy that still, only very few people ask real questions in meaning of their existence. There’s a fucking internet where one can research the occult, but they rather go see funny movie clips? I would not hesitate a second to detonate this planet to pieces6. Things are already pretty fucked up, but it’s just a beginning of the end times. There has to become more disease and virus, that force ’em to take their precious time much more seriously.
Metal music could be construed as a duality, one side being that which attracts a big audience like Def Leppard and the other side being crypto-art like early Gorgoroth which is “outsider art,” or that which does not base its arguments on the idea that our society as it stands now is doing OK. Outsider art however does not tend to be “protest art,” which issues a negative political statement on aspects of society. Def Leppard and others however can be seen as making negative statements through escapism. Does this duality hold metal back?
A good point. I was thinking about other rock genres, like punk, but there even the smallest underground bands usually have a political manifesto. What about electronic music? Underground techno acts hardly never have a message, but the bigger they get the lyrics become to statements of better world. Actually I don’t know much about normal music they play on the radio. Hmm…
The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.
– Johannes Eckhart, Sermon IV
Richard Wagner both turned classical music toward ancient themes and, by using leitmotifs7 that resembled more the way plays and later, radio,would work, liberalized it and laid the foundation for the movie music that would later inspire Black Sabbath. Is this some type of universal balance where each thing contains its opposites, or was his intent even more cryptic than that, in that he knew what would result and wanted to hurry it up?
Usually, it’s enough that the man intends to create something original.
Is art a celebration of life, a social guardian, or a celebration of the artist?
Some artists may think art is a sickness. Are they reborn entertainers?
Schizophrenia, or having a divided mind, is seen by many as being the major psychological disease of the modern time. Is there a way to benefit from the perspective of schizophrenia?
I am not sure of a benefit; it probably depends on the person and the social network around them? This is an area which should be studied: two steps beyond nibbana8, in hallucination of self existence. We are all doomed!
Have you had contact with the underground music of any parts of the world other than Finland?
I have spent a lot of time in South-East Asia. I see young people are in general pretty much same, but for example their lack of (Western) music culture, their understanding in extreme music usually fall down to those major bands shown on MTV. But then on the other hand, there’s real underground vibes, especially in punk scene, f.ex. Bangkok Alcohol and those young punks are well aware of their original roots. The Black Metal scene is much smaller, but I know the guys from Surrender Of Divinity, and they are cool. There’s no much need to antichristian movement here. Hahaha!
Can you describe some of the early influences on the band that might not be obvious? Specifically, where do BLASPHEMY, HOLOCAUSTO and SARCOFAGO fit in?
In the very beginning, under the name of PSEUDOCHRIST, we rehearsed with cover songs from bands like DEATH, SODOM and SLAYER. Later that summer of 1989, I started to trade vinyls from Brazil and Cogumelo Records. Those bands were so primitive and brutal in a style of music we didn’t know existed. They had this unique sound of underground metal.
We changed our name to BEHERIT, started to paint our faces and radically simplify our songs and playing technique. No more pussycat rock mentality with dreams of large audience or positive feedback, and understanding from society.
I remember the day we got BLASPHEMY Blood Upon The Altar cassette in postal package. We kept listening that tape over and over again on our rehearsal room. We all three came to the conclusion that it was the most fucking severe black metal ever made, and it’s still true after 20 years. We recorded our second demo to honor these Canadian godz of brutality. Three months later we went to the studio for Dawn Of Satan’s Millennium, which had a bit more of our own sound. SARCOFAGO and BLASPHEMY, together with BATHORY have been the greatest influences in the history of BEHERIT. No doubt.
When did you start playing guitar, and was it your first instrument?
Electric guitar was my first instrument. I was 13 years old.
Did you listen to any of these: Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Einsturezende Neubauten, Autechre, Biosphere. Did they influence you?
Sure. I did produce an ambient radio station for five years, so I have a quite nice ambient music collection. Kraftwerk and Autechre I have seen playing live and they were cool. About influences, not much on this new album.
The feel of Drawing Down the Moon is one of ritual; the atmosphere commands a hypnotic ambience, and the entire creation, down to minor details of the presentation, is meticulously interconnected. How did you achieve such a vision, one that seemingly has not been mimicked since?
That winter I listened often to the discography of BATHORY, and read books on Odinism and Asatru. We held pagan rituals. I hardly had any contact to normal society. In the door of my apartment, it read on big letters: EMBASSY OF EVIL.
Individualism: The basis of its error is to mistake the notion of the person with that of the individual and to claim for the latter, unconditionally and according to egalitarian premises, some values that should rather be attributed solely to the former, and then only conditionally. Because of this transposition, these values are transformed into errors, or into something absurd and harmful.
– Julias Evola, Men Among the Ruins (1953)
Can you please summarize the history of GOAT VULVA and the ways which it was relevant to BEHERIT?
Hahaha! Goat Vulva was only a booze project. I recorded those demos on normal C-cassette recorder by putting a piece of tape over the eraser head. I don’t remember how many so-called demos were released, but they came in very limited quantities, perhaps 10 or 20 copies of each. Messe Des Morts was recorded in same studios where Erotic Worshipwas, but otherwise, it was very much a project of its own.
Is it important that metal be considered as “serious” (in any sense) by the outside world?
I don’t mind outsiders. I see them in busses and walking on the city streets, but I never talk to ’em nor do they come talk to me, and even more rarely do we discuss music.
If you are in a metal band, that nobody — of the people who you think should — takes seriously, there’s something wrong with your music, image or both. Make the difference, make the art happen. I don’t mean to murder or burn the church, but use your imagination and live in it. The mind is the strongest weapon.
Are you in Thailand permanently?
I am on a long journey. Now in Thailand, but leaving next week down to Malaysia and then to Oceania. At first, I will meet the people from PORTAL in Brisbane. They have a new project called OLDE GUARDE. Nomad life, traveling with a notebook + ultramobile music studio.
How do the lunar and solar tendencies manifest themselves in your life and art?
I try my best to arrange all our contracts and release dates on lunar dates, not to forget numerology and other aspects of magic. I have done that for years. Life would be boring without little of superstition.
3Maya: the illusion that people and objects exist independently from a continuum of interacting, inter-related and contiguous causes
4Metta: “love without attachment,” meaning a benevolent kindness toward the world that also accepts the chaotic nature of existence and so does not seek the perpetuation of its object
5Samsara: the karmic cycle of reincarnation and death in which individuals attempt to move “up” a karmic ladder toward higher states of consciousness
6Because I don’t have children, otherwise I would use a human logic and say the anger is a symbol. “Because, I just fucking hate this world.”
7Leitmotif: a musical phrase symbolically associated with a character or idea that is reintroduced in a narrative piece whenever that object is referenced.
8Nibbana or nirvana: a psychological state of being free from attachment to earthly resentments, namely anger, greed, craving and television.
So… I don’t know how we got this lucky, but the gods (and the gods of metal) have been good to us.
I hope you enjoy. I never thought I’d talk to such luminaries who — unlike artists in every other genre but classical, for me — live up to the legendary status they maintain.No Comments
Amebix, Severed Head of State, Deskonocidos and Mammoth Grinder
January 24, 2009
Emo’s, Austin, TX
Musical movements can only exist for so long. They birth themselves, flower, and then having said what they needed to, imitate themselves until so self-parodic they bore, they vanish into assimilation by other genres. Amebix remain one of the few punk or hardcore-related bands to preserve the germinal force that made the genre such a powerful cleaver of dead iconography, and they arrived in Austin for the beginning of their world tour.
As cities go, Austin seems a good choice for the godfathers of crust punk, a type of punk hardcore typified by howling vocals, melodic playing, and a tendency to live in squats and not bathe. Back in 1983, this seemed revolutionary; in 2009, it’s either necessity or an artifice, like wealthy tourists buying authentic peasant clothing to store in their overflowing cabinets at home. Two decades of crust punk bands have brought us greater diversity of music but fewer standout acts, although the population of “crusties” who live the crustcore lifestyle has burgeoned in Austin since about 1997.
At Emo’s, whose open-air second stage is the designated ground zero, crusties fill the courtyard wearing tshirts from punk and metal bands, spikes, leather, and boots. The name of the game is to become a self-aware iconoclast and to combine different influences in some ironic or unique way, and this audience tries hard. Someone with hair spiked by cold scalp grease and not hair care products passed; another appears to have literally defecated in his pants and even at a grungy show, keeps a wide circle of stench guaranteeing him personal space.
We arrived after Mammoth Grinder, who left no impression on those in the audience not acquainted with them personally. In overflowing scenes, the name of the game is keeping a circle of friends who will support you, because only then can you distinguish yourself from similar acts. No one knew what we were talking about when we asked about Mammoth Grinder. After that, Deskonocidos took the stage and pumped forth the prototypical punk hybrid: oi choruses, pop-punk hooks, d-beat drums, classic The Exploited-style riffs and lots of yeahyeahyeahs. People seemed to enjoy it but when it ended blank expressions returned.
Severed Head of State
Severed Head of State came well-spoken of, at least among the people present. When they took the stage, a clamor followed as people pushed into the covered area to hear them. To this reviewer’s ear, they sounded afraid: afraid to leave any dynamic spaces of silence in their songs, afraid to break pace, afraid to not use dogmatically punkish riffs. The constant wall of sound hybridized the last thirty years of hardcore into something insistent, loud, invariant and quite frankly, boring.
Luckily the crowd seemed content with a beat and the hurling shout of the sweaty, shaven-headed vocalist whose eyes betrayed a nervousness his elbow gestures attempted to erase. It reminded this reviewer of all of the angry, disturbed music made by Nazi lunatics and religious fanatics, a burst of explosiveness and discordance whose goal is not to use those extreme states as a contrast by which a point can be made, but to make them the norm so the shocking is the mundane. It depleted energy, not transferred it.
At this point, it was past midnight. Someone had chalked “Crush the System” on the brick wall, near grafiti for blow jobs and the ubiquitous Austin rockabilly bands. The pizza stand just inside the gate of the club was doing a brisk business selling the pizza that arrived in battered cardboard boxes and was then heated to apocalyptic temperatures and sold for five bucks a slice. A crowd of crusties stood outside the entrance, talking loudly about how they needed to borrow money — “anything you got, I’ve got five, I need fifteen to get in” — and then, when the crowd surge left them alone, extracting iPhones to call friends, dealers, cabs.
Amebix did not seize the stage. They did not announce themselves. Their presence and aura did not alter the chemistry of the room or the weather. Instead, they walked out. Set up some instruments. Tuned up, did a soundcheck. Then let the feedback melt into the night until enough people got curious, and then crashed into their set. Unlike the previous bands, they did not watch the audience.
A threepiece — the Baron on bass/vocals, Stig on guitar, and a gent whose name no one caught on drums — the Amebix distinguished themselves by absence. There was no self-importance or manipulation of others with pandering. There was no recognition of event, or the people buzzing around including at least two people filming what are going to be the world’s shakiest concert videos, or even of their own status. With a grim set to the jaw, and a playful but professional mien, they played their songs with focus on details but little neurosis. The crowd could have evaporated in fire and the band would have continued amongst the ashes because their mission was both an end and the means to that end in itself.
The Baron maintains a low profile for a vocalist, with his microphone extended above his head and pointing downward in homage to Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmeister, an Explorer-body bass with what looks like either a German war cross or an outlined plus sign on it under a strap with a single red star and white cross on it. Like the rest of the band, he wears a button-down black shirt and black slacks. His face, slightly lined, looks weatherbeaten like that of a coastal fisherman, but his hair is thick and shaggy and his muscles rangy and accustomed to use. Stig looks more like he stepped out of Saint Vitus, with the lidded eyes of a stoner and longer hair and beard, but diligently played his guitar while periodically flickering eyes over the Baron to make sure they were in time. The Baron on the other hand appeared to check up on no one.
True to form for a punk and/or Amebix show, chaos reigned. Several members of the crowd got thrown out for doing something so stupid security laughed nervously as the new outsiders sprawled on the pavement, the guitar sound kept fragmenting in staccato fuzz, and the CD player which served as a keyboard/samples track plikking and gleeping on a sure path to failure.
The band repeatedly apologized for these glitches but among those paying attention, they passed quickly and without consequence. What was admirable about the handling of these “the show must go on” errors is that the band would quit the song, restart and apply it again so the audience got the full effect. We are deliberate, their actions seemed to say, and we will not just settle like drifting modern people picking DVD players or girlfriends.
After a seven-song set, the Amebix departed; two tracks were an encore of sorts, but then with a quick thank you to the crowd, they were gone back into that space between legendhood and alienation where they have been dwelling these past two decades. The crowd, most of whom paid secondary attention to the band and primary attention to being noticed by others, making endless calls on their cell phones, shuttling between pizza and beer and the leaking groaning porta-potties set up near the far fence, provided a monotone contrast. Unlike the band, they had nothing to call their direction in life, other than spending trust funds or working in video stores.
Unlike the band, they adorned themselves externally to be different but when seen together, appeared to be a crowd of generic indeliberate actions. Unlike the band, they showed no attention span and during a historic event acted as if it were about them, personally, and had no relation to these musicians who traveled over sea and land to be here. It was all about them, and this tendency made them fade into the background when in the presence of not just grizzled veterans but people who lived deliberate, purposeful, fulfilling lives that do not admit a need for external affirmation, although they are geared toward external manifestation.
It was embarrassing to see that the best Austin could offer were adult children who dedicated their lives to distraction. The intentional freakishness got shallower as the show went on and finally the word “pathetic” rose in the mind as these people did everything to bring attention to themselves but what would matter: serving some function in reality that made them live up to the contrived and dramatic self-promoting speech they made so abundant. The callowness of crowds at metal shows does not even approach the level of base disconnection, and almost outright scorn for the band, exhibited by this group of crusties.
Even the teenage scrawl of “Crush the System” rang hollow, since it was clear no one was here to crush the system because no one here wanted to even analyze or change their own behavior, only to justify an ethic of convenience with broad dogma boxing them into a position of no hope, from which their careless lifestyles then seemed apt. A skinhead openly walked around with suspenders and white laces, wondering if anyone would notice and stop him. They noticed, but turned their heads. Conversation was afoot, and an ethic of convenience does not permit confrontation. Oddly, that created a more tolerant atmosphere where anarchist crusty and fascist skinhead could rub shoulders in harmony.
On the other hand, Amebix exhibited a subtlety born of having escaped this theatrical cycle. They did not blow away their opening bands, but quietly put on a show that fit their material and personalities; it was just of another level. Their actions did not draw attention to themselves but put the attention on the material stretched between band and audience, even though fewer than one in ten had a chance of understanding it. Their energy was not demonstrated, like in gestures designed to be seen through a movie camera, but emanated from thousands of factors at once, harmonized across the frigid air as a vision coalesced. As much as ugly music can be beautiful, it was, and sustaining in that it affirmed the power of will in a world of the willless, which like an afterimage haunted both those with souls and those who lived without purpose as they escaped into the night.
MASTER TOUR DATES 2009
|1.23.09||Halberstadt (Ger) – Salut|
|1.24.09||Vorchdorf (A) – Kitzmantelhalle|
|1.25.09||Wien (A) – Viper room|
|1.26.09||Orto Club, Ljubljana, Slovenia|
|1.29.09||Naples (I) – Duel:Beat|
|1.30.09||Piacenza (I) – For Sale|
|1.31.09||Cusano Milanino (I) – Marmaja Live Club|
|2.01.09||Strasbourg (France) – Molodoi|
|2.02.09||Uster (Ch) – Rock City|
|2.03.09||. Dornbirn (A) – tba|
|2.04.09||Masters of Rock Cafe-Zlin CZ|
|2.10.09||The Music Box, Manchester UK|
|2.11.09||The Tunnels, Aberdeen Scotland|
|2.14.09||Leeds (Uk) – Rios|
|2.15.09||The Cave, Amsterdam, Holland|
|2.16.09||Antwerpen (B) – de rots|
|2.17.09||Hafenklang Hamburg (Ger) –|
|2.20.09||Bayreuth (Ger) – Kolpingsaal|
|2.21.09||Leipzig Germany – Heavy Metal nix im Scheddel|
|2.22.09||The Rambler-Eindhoven, Holland|
|2.24.09||Torgau (Ger) – Kulturbastion|
|2.25.09||Gladhouse, Cottbus (Ger)|
|2.26.09||Bilsko Biala (Pol) – Rudeboy|
|2.27.09||Lodz (Pol) – Dekompresja Club|
|2.28.09||Wroclaw Poland TBA|
|3.01.09||Berlin Germany K-17|
|6.06.09||Hardstage Festival, Belgern bei Torgau, Sachsen|
|6.13.09||Boiler Room Regensburg, Germany|
|7.08.09||Broadway Joes Buffalo, New York|
|7.10.09||The Rock Maplewood, Minnesota|
|7.11.09||Elbo Room Chicago, Illinois|
|7.12.09||Mac’s Bar, Lansing Michigan|
|7.13.09||The Bulldog Cafe, Louisville Kentucky|
|7.14.09||The Muse, Nashville Tennesee|
|7.15.09||The Room 710 Austin, Texas|
|7.16.09||Schotzis, College Station, Texas|
|7.17.09||Walters Houston, Texas|
|7.18.09||TBA San Antonio Or San Marcos, Texas|
|7.19.09||Histeria Club, Juarez, Mexico|
|7.20.09||The Compound Albuquerque, New Mexico|
|7.21.09||UB’s BAR, Mesa, Arizona|
|7.22.09||The Jumping Turtle San Marcos, California|
|7.23.09||The Knitting Factory, Hollywood,California|
|7.24.09||Annies-San Francisco, California|
|7.25.09||Cheyenne Saloon Las Vegas, Nevada|
|7.27.09||Union Station, Colorado Springs,|
|7.28.09||Box Awesome Lincoln, Nebraska|
|7.29.09||The Riot Room, Kansas City|
|7.31.09||The Canopy Club/CIM 2009|
Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.
But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”
An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization — a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” — a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.
Ad busters doesn’t mention this, but there’s a simple pattern:
Normal, healthy people pick music they want to listen to.
Hipsters pick music to make themselves look good.
A hipster is defined by this reversed cause/effect, and this is why they parallel our society: like people looking for political handouts, they are justifying themselves to others instead of acting as they know is right.
In metal, the hipster is the person always trying to be different, to pick music that is brainy or “authentic” (simple), the person spreading trends and fads. Instead of being an authentic fan who picks the music he or she thinks is best, the hipster is using the music as adornment to conceal their ordinariness.
What’s the damage, you ask? Hipsters bloat genres with people who don’t understand them and, in the ensuing confusion, pick the lowest common denominator. So heavy metal returns to rock, death metal returns to heavy metal, folk becomes punk, and so on.
Healthy societies work from cause to effect. We need an empire, so we build it (cause) and then it appears (effect). Dying societies work from effect to cause. We want an empire, so we create the appearance of an empire (effect) and hope it will show up (cause). This is why old black metallers fear trends, hipsters, fads and mass media like the plague: they promote this unhealthy psychology.
In the postmortem over humanity’s failure, our new reptilian overlords will discuss this issue, and conclude that humans had two modes of thought: a healthy forward-thinking one, and a negative and sick backward-thinking one. The hipster, like every other form of decay in our society, is backward thinking.
Metal is currently awash in hipsters because hipsters use something called irony to disguise their low self-esteem. If they’re listening to IRON MAIDEN, it’s because they find it amusing — not because they believe in it. In fact, they believe in nothing except what others believe in within their social group, which makes them always right. If someone makes fun of them for liking IRON MAIDEN, they can always claim their enjoyment is ironic. It’s a race to the bottom with the hipster, because believing in anything but illusion and evasion makes you a target, so they believe in nothing except “ironically,” and that’s how they infiltrated metal.
In the same way hipsters find trailer parks quaint and amusing, they found death metal and black metal intriguing. It was untamed, unsocialized material, and a threat to everything the hipster stood for. So they assimilated it, and moved in by taking positions in the community. Start buying metal, or selling metal, and others depend on you. From that they branched out by using the hipster tactic of focusing on the external. “Well, this could be more unique if we added a flute…”
When you focus on the external, and don’t pay attention to the fundamental quality of music that distinguishes it, which is how well it communicates, you end up norming the music. Structurally, it becomes all the same, but externally, it’s all tricked out in motley so it appears “different” and “new.” But the real name of the game is not being different, but being the same so you are universally accepted, while having enough adornments that you stand out in a crowd… just like the hipster.
We’ve seen this steadily increasing in metal since 1994 or so, and it was helped by some in metal who would rather leave a bad legacy with a full wallet than the inverse, such as Death and Cannibal Corpse. It will reverse, but only as soon as metal bands and fans start communing on the idea of forward-logic instead of backward, negative logic.No Comments