Death Metal Underground

Sinister plans release of The Post-Apocalyptic Servant in May 2014

April 12, 2014 –

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Thunderous Dutch death metal assailants Sinister return with a new album entitled The Post-Apocalyptic Servant which is slated for release in May 2014. The album will be released on Massacre Records and includes covers of songs by Morbid Angel, Agent Steel and Paradise Lost.

Sinister have released a sample track, “The Burden of Mayhem” in advance of the album’s entry into the market. The band made its name in the early death metal years with Cross the Styx which combined the percussive and fast tremolo sounds with an underpinning of melody, creating a mood between the aggressive darkness of American death metal and the melancholic emptiness of its European cousins.

Although it was legendary for Cross the Styx, Sinister probably peaked with 1996′s Hate, which combined the best riffology of percussive death metal (Suffocation, Pyrexia) with the type of unsettling melodies previously only found in black metal. The Post-Apocalyptic Servant (which is hopefully about Satan as the cover hints) will contain the following tracks:

  1. The Science Of Prophecy
  2. The Macabre God
  3. The Sculpture Of Insanity
  4. The End Of All That Conquers
  5. The Masquerade Of An Angel
  6. The Dome Of Pleasure
  7. The Post-Apocalyptic Servant
  8. The Art Of Skin Decoration
  9. The Saviour
  10. The Burden Of Mayhem
  11. Fall From Grace (Morbid Angel)
  12. Deadly Inner Sense (Paradise Lost)
  13. Unstoppable Force (Agent Steel)

Blaspherian demonstrate new song in San Antonio

April 1, 2014 –

Blasphemous occult old school thunderous death metal band Blaspherian rose to the stage at Bonds 007 in San Antonio and revealed their newest hymn, “Awakened Into Impious Absolvement.”

Interview: Jari of Agonized

March 28, 2014 –

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Finnish band Agonized got the break last year that they wanted two decades ago: a horde of people interested in their only demo, “Gods…,” which was subsequently and sequentially released on CD-R, vinyl, CD and tape.

Created in the old school style of primitive rumbling death metal somewhere between Belial and Demigod, “Gods…” comprised four tracks (and an intro) of disturbing inhuman noise shaped into musical form. Since metal has not produced any style more compelling than old school death metal, interest in such material has accelerated over the recent years.

We were fortunate to get in a few words with Jari from Agonized about “Gods…” and the circumstances of its creation, and how and why it endures today…

Was there a “Finnish sound” to death metal, or multiple Finnish sounds? It seems to be popular to group bands like Funebre, Demilich, Xysma, and Demigod together and proclaim a similarity to them. Does this sound exist? Is Agonized part of the group that uses this sound?

I think there was. There was a similar sound to bands of that era. Like there was, or still is “Swedish sound.” It might be pure coincidence that bands played like that. In our case, we listened to Xysma, Abhorrence and Disgrace in 90s so those really had a big influence on our music. Of course every band sounded like their own style, doing their own mix of influences through the “Finnish” filter. You simply cannot say all Finnish bands sounded the same. They just had some Finnish trademark on their sound. I cannot define that better. I am not a musician haha.

What drew you personally to death metal back in the late 80s and early 90s? Did you have any connection to metal before death metal? Do you know if the other members of Agonized had a similar experience?

Three of us grew up together. Me, Janne (bass) and Mauno (drums) were childhood friends and have known each other since we were something like seven years old. We started like any other young kid those days. First there was Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P. and Kiss. I remember I bought my first W.A.S.P. record when I was ten years old. After that we just tried to find more and more extreme and heavy stuff. Then we started to find out heavier stuff like Slayer, Bathory and Destruction to name a few. I think this has been the way many of today’s death metal fans have started. Also I had some sort of punk era in between.

After Napalm Death released From Enslavement to Obliteration we read about them from Finnish music magazines and were like, “Whoa, that must be some cool shit.” At that time only way to get your hands on Napalm Death records was to travel to Helsinki from Lahti by train and buy them.

When I found that Napalm Death LP in Helsinki, at the same time I saw Carcass’s Reek of Putrefaction LP and Bolt Thrower Realm of Chaos. When I got home from Helsinki and put on the first notes of the Napalm Death LP, I could say my head exploded. What an absolute annihilation after listening years of thrash and speed metal. After that I got into the next LP, Carcass… yeah, right… Another deadly hit. Rest is history. I have never survived that actually. So I am still on that road.

When did Agonized form, and what were your inspirations and influences at that time? Did you have any non-musical influences, like literature or other forms of art or culture?

Agonized was formed in 1990 if I remember correctly. Janne, Mauno and I wanted to play some death metal after hardcore/grind experiments but it was really hard to find anyone skilled enough to play guitars. We put an advert on a Finnish music magazine that we are searching some guitarists to play death metal. We got contacted by two dudes (Antti and Mika) from Vantaa and went to see if it would work out. We had a nice playing session and everyone thought let’s play something together. We gathered few times, in Vantaa and Lahti, to play together.

As we were arranging concerts in Lahti for underground bands we played few shows on those events. Agonized had big influences from Bolt Thrower, Carcass and Xysma. Those must have been the most influential bands on Agonized, at least for me. I don’t remember any non-musical influences. No, I don’t think there was any non-musical influences. Agonized was mostly for just having fun playing the music we wanted to hear.

The band put out one demo, “Gods…” Can you tell us how this demo came about? When did you write the songs, and how did you record it?

After few shows we decided to record those tracks we played to tape. Songs on this tape are all Agonized ever managed to come by. Our shows contained only those tracks and I remember we played those twice to play even a decent length of set. All songs was born at those rehearsals we had together. We just started playing and decided that “hey, that sounded cool” and continued to another one.

“Gods…” was recorded in a local studio, we got two or three hours of free use of it with the guy who mixes the tape. Guy behind the desk did not have any idea what to do with this kind of music. I doubt he had never even mixed any metal band. We just listened the results and said “do this, do that…”. Guitars and drums were recorded first. After that we recorded vocals and last bass. Janne had some issues in his life and did not manage to recording session, so Mika played also bass on “Gods…”

Whole thing was ready in those two or three hours we got to be in the studio for free. We could have done it better with more, but were totally broke as we were just a bunch of kids who spent all their money the previous evening getting wasted. So we had to accept the fact that we did not have any money for more studio time.

Apparently the band members went separate ways after the recording of this demo. Do you know why this was? Did you personally want to keep going as Agonized?

After recording, I remember some got bored playing death metal and wanted to play something else. I myself was bored with my whole life and started some sort of seven year period of self destruction with substance abuse and techno haha. So I kind of departed from the whole scene to a completely different world. Couldn’t care less about Agonized or the whole scene. Of course I still listened to some bands but was completely away from the scene for years.

Looking back, what do you think of the demo, and the potential that the band had?

I have always thought it is a good demo. Still we could have done it better. But maybe if we would have done it with more time, it might have lost its primitive approach and become shit. Maybe, just maybe, it was done in the best possible way. Without thinking too much of the final result. Band definitely had potential, if we had just continued playing.

But due to personal problems and interests that just was not possible.

Several former Agonized members reunited in Cadavericmutilator, which as far as I know has never released a demo. What was Cadavericmutilator like?

Actually it was other way around. Cadavericmutilator was before Agonized. It was a noise/grindcore band including Janne, Mauno, me and several various members playing guitars. We made few shows and actually recorded one demo, which was not spread anywhere. It was just pure chaos. Just blasting with some noisy guitars playing whatever and two vocalists screaming with shitloads of effects on them. That demo would have been nice to hear today, unfortunately it was destroyed as I shot holes through the master tape when I was being a bit paranoid years ago hahaha. Well, it was quite crap anyways. So no big loss.

Some reviewers have mentioned that Agonized, while using the classic Finnish death metal ™ style, had more of the pace of Autopsy and the grinding presence of Carcass. Did any of these bands factor into your listening? How do you describe the music of Agonized?

I would describe music of Agonized as a hybrid of American and Finnish death metal. It is just like Bolt Thrower and Carcass mixed with Xysma. At least I think so. Some have compared it to Mortician, but I must admit that any of us did not even know what Mortician was back in the days we were active. So I cannot compare us to them.

I thought it was a stroke of genius how the band (or you alone?) managed to first release a CD-R of the demos, build interest, then get a 7″ released, build more interest, and finally get the CD re-release on Aphelion records. Can you tell us how each of these steps came about, and roughly how many copies of “Gods…” are out there as a result?

Actually this re-release fuzz is completely my fault. I wanted to just have a personal copy on CD-R, but due to high popular interest I decided to release 140 copies of CD-R so that people who want it can have it. Very soon after I did that, Emptiness released a 7″ that was limited to 500 copies. Patches were made at the same time to include with some of the copies. Also Aphelion released a CD version quite soon after this, limited to 1000 copies.

Latest news is that there is coming a tape version that has limitation of 100 copies. This will be released by Dunkelheit. Tape version is a bit different one. After all these other releases I found a nice copy of “Gods…” tape from Mexico (thanks Agata) and tape version uses that as a source. So it sounds a bit different than other versions that use Mr. Moyen’s tape as a source.

What have you done since the days of Agonized? Are you still active in the death metal community? What about the other members?

After Agonized I was away from this world for seven years with my substace abuse problems I defined earlier on this interview. For 15 years I have now been sober and have four great little kids and a wife and a daily job. Sounds boring eh? So I do not have time to be very active in anything. I do collect CDs and mainly they are death metal. New and old. There are excellent new albums and bands popping up every week. But it’s not like I am being active, just listening to same kind of music as when I was a kid. I do not know about other members. I suppose some of them do have some music related projects but no idea what kind of.

Are there any plans to get Agonized back together and write more material? If not, why? If so, what can we expect?

There was some discussion of this with other members. But as for now, at least I think this would not be so good idea. At least not under the name Agonized. I think reunions are not a very good idea after over 20 years of silence. When “Gods…” was released we were 16 year old angry young metal heads with great passion to do what we do. How in the hell that same can be achieved now, when we are like 40 year old dudes with families. I could do vocals, but I doubt it will be the same anymore. I’m not saying that when you are 40 you can’t play death metal, but for sure it won’t be the same band as it was over 20 years ago. It would be completely different story. But… Never say never.

Do you think death metal and underground metal are still relevant? Why do you think people are still drawn to this art form?

Absolutely. Seems to be very alive and kicking. Death metal is here to stay, where would it go. People like me like to listen to it. What would I listen if not death metal? I have grown with it. It is a tool to get away from this every day life for just a while. People want to release their anger by playing it and why not. It gives youth of today a good alternative on all the shit this world hits at you from every side.

Underground metal is a honest form of music and way to express yourself. Not the crap you stumble across everyday to make you dumb. I also do admire bands that have been around since the beginning. That is one hell of an achievement to play this kind of music 20-30 years active, touring and recording. Now that is something.

Autopsy releases “The Howling Dead” from Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves

March 27, 2014 –

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Crepitant muciferous mid-paced death metal band Autopsy releases its newest album, Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves on April 29. This will be the seventh full-length for the long-running band, who took a break from 1995-2008, and most likely will showcase more of their streamlined rubric of aggressive death metal balanced by a mainstay of moderately paced material which gives contrast to the bursts of fury.

Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves was recorded at Fantasy Studios with producer Adam Munoz, and features the classic Autopsy line-up of Eric Cutler and Danny Coralles on guitars, Joe Trevisano on bass and Chris Reifert on drums and vocals. Second-wave death metal cover designed Wes Benscoter painted a cover to order which exhibits the album’s theme in one convenient image.

The tracklist for this sonic shock troop attack will be:

1. Savagery
2. King of Flesh Ripped
3. Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves
4. The Howling Dead
5. After The Cutting
6. Forever Hungry
7. Teeth of The Shadow Horde
8. All Shall Bleed
9. Deep Crimson Dreaming
10. Parasitic Eye
11. Burial
12. Autopsy

Below is the sound sample from Peaceville Records:

Codex Obscurum – Issue Four

March 22, 2014 –

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Many of us old school death metal fans watched the rise of zine Codex Obscurum with growing interest because it, like Glorious Times and Underground Never Dies!, represents an attempt to look back at the underground and figure out what made it as powerful as it was. Part of the answer is selectivity, which is a gentle person’s form of “elitism,” meaning that one selects quality over quantity and vigorously promotes and defends the quality. This is what zines did, what radio shows did, and what labels did, back in the day, by choosing some bands over others. The vague smell of blood in the air is the shadow of long-forgotten predation and natural selection that also shaped us as humans, which means not so much “survival of the fittest” but that all who make a meaningful contribution get kicked upstairs and everyone else is forgotten.

Codex Obscurum represents the best kind of selectivity because it targets bands of note but does so broadly, thus you avoid both the “hey kids, everything’s great!” attitude of the commercial providers and the narrow perceptual slot of the kvlt vndergrovnd. This issue advertises swamp death metal band Autopsy, second-wave crust band Doom, cavernous old school death metal band Blaspherian, multifaceted heavy metal/folk band Primordial, melodic drone metal band Sacriphyx, abrasive occult death metal band Father Befouled, Icelandic modern black metal act Svartidaudi, and several more. While not everyone may like (or admit to liking…) these acts, the spread makes it clear that both broad-minded attention to music itself and a high level of standards apply here. This explains why the editors of such a zine might want to go underground and stay there, where they are not beholden to the ugly cycle of advertising revenues and thus being asked to pimp the latest platter of re-heated Carpenters tunes spray-painted with the vaguest appearance of “metal.” Indeed, Codex Obscurum is funded entirely by user purchase price, which is why for $5 or so this arrives at your door with no ads.

For the uninitiated, this zine presents the old school zine style in every detail, which is both practical and a nice atmospheric touch. The hand-numbered issues, the xeroxed pages complete with copy artifacts, occasional typos and sometimes surly answers to perfectly reasonable questions by bands who clearly have done too much press lately, all factor in to the appeal. Use of cardstock for the cover gives this issue a more permanent feel than older photocopied heap zines had, which shows a positive advance of technology. Similarly, quite a few of these interviews seem to have occurred through email, and the use of office software to lay out the zine makes it more readable. The rest is pure old school, from the writing style which is both personal and projected into the mind of an idealized metalhead, looking for that nearly indefinable quality that makes a metal band distinguish itself as a classic in the making rather than news of the week.

The primary content for Codex Obscurum is provided by its abundant interviews, which are conducted in a familiar yet inquisitive style, like the best of Joan Didion-influenced hip journalism before it forgot the word “investigative” in its title. These questions aren’t all softballs like you would expect in a mainstream magazine, but sometimes force bands to confront their own internal struggles for self-definition. To their credit, most of the bands here rise to the occasion and reveal their thinking and intentions in the actions they have taken. The Doom interview is particularly revelatory as the interviewer walks the band through the past and makes connections to consistent patterns across their career. The Autopsy interview makes for a stunning read since it is Eric Cutler giving a candid and somewhat aggressive portrayal of where the band is and how past events shaped their present outlook. The Svartidaudi interview goes in-depth into how this band is struggling to find its own voice while under onslaught from the many trends of current black metal, despite being inspired by the best of the past (which is different from being inspired by the past alone). One oddity that would be called a “quirk” in any less just-the-music-ma’am magazine is the lengthy interview with the creator of the RPG Cave Evil, which accompanies the amazing artwork from that game with a nearly existential exploration of the purpose of RPGs themselves.

Profanatica “Thy Kingdom Cum” (Hell’s Headbangers)
Disingenuous.
You cannot defile nuns
While wearing sweatpants.

The sizeable block of reviews at the back of Codex Obscurum show where this zine is determined to keep its hand in the current music industry. Any band that is roughly connected to old school death metal and black metal, with a wide spread because of open-mindedness, qualifies for inclusion here. These reviews take a conversational outlook which seems too removed from the music at first except when you realize that it’s gonzo journalism of the first order. When writing about metal, don’t pretend you are not a metalhead; it’s a lie. Further, think of what you like and then extrapolate to what others like. It helps them shop for music. It also avoids troubling pretense and complications as reviewers try to get more “in depth” and end up producing thousand-word inspections that result in no clear conclusions. Here, the conclusions are clear — in fact, one section even puts them in Haiku form — and give roughly the kind of synopsis one would get from an experienced record store owner, label head or producer, issuing forth a rough summary of the band, its importance and its staying power and audience, in about a sentence each.

For the past several issues, Codex Obscurum has reserved its final pages for experimental content. In this case, it is facially an inspection of why a famous metal musician flaked on an interview… and beneath the waves, a deft revelation of the disintegration of the underground into warring self-interested parties while no one keeps their eye on the wheel or the road. That leaves the future of the genre up in the air, since everyone is too busy cashing in to steer, and the results are about as you might expect: all the has-beens in warmed over hardcore, emo and indie rock bands have rushed through the breach and set up shop making parasitic versions of the older material, except nowhere near as good. Codex Obscurum shows a good way to reclaim the past of the underground for the future, namely to start paying attention to the steering again and to be unafraid to be selective and to not give reasons why some bands simply suck. Just be honest. The editors and writers here have given it their best shot and it makes for not only informative and entertaining reading, but a glimpse into the old days without the smarmy fug of solicitous nostalgia for marketing purposes that normally hangs around such ventures.

Jason Netherton (Dying Fetus) releases Extremity Retained: Notes from the Death Metal Underground

March 20, 2014 –

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Former Dying Fetus member Jason Netherton, now proprietor Send Back My Stamps!, releases his latest creation in the form of a 480-page book of interview with figures in the death metal underground called Extremity Retained: Notes from the Death Metal Underground. The product of over 100 interviews over a three-year period, the book is comprised entirely of first-hand stories, anecdotes, memories and opinions.

The book attempts to “explore the scene through the voices of those who helped create it” and thus focuses its questions on zines, tape-trading and other rituals of the underground. These lengthy narratives are complemented by original cover and section art by Matt “Putrid Gore” Carr, incidental art by Gary Ronaldson, with design and typography from Tilmann Benninghaus, and title page by Timo Ketola.

Contributors to Extremity Retained: Notes from the Death Metal Underground include (but are not limited to): Luc Lemay (Gorguts), Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse), King Fowley (Deceased), Stephan Gebidi (Thanatos, Hail of Bullets), Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity), Doug Cerrito (Suffocation), John McEntee (Incantation, Funerus), Marc Grewe (Morgoth), Ola Lindgren (Grave), Paul Ryan (Origin), Kam Lee (ex-Massacre, ex-Death), Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, Lock Up), Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation), Robert Vigna and Ross Dolan (Immolation), Jacob Schmidt (Defeated Sanity), Esa Linden (Demigod), Dan Seagrave (Artist), Rick Rozz (ex-Death, Massacre), Steve Asheim (Deicide), Jim Morris (Morrisound Studios), Terry Butler (Obituary, Massacre, ex-Death), Mitch Harris (Napalm Death, Righteous Pigs), Scott Hull (Pig Destroyer), John Gallagher (Dying Fetus), Robin Mazen (Derketa, Demonomacy), George Fisher (Cannibal Corpse), Ed Warby (Gorefest, Hail of Bullets), Rob Barrett (Cannibal Corpse, ex-Solstice), Donald Tardy (Obituary), Moyses Kolesne (Krisiun), Takaaki Ohkuma (Necrophile), Paul Speckmann (Master, Abomination), Anders Jacobson (Nasum, Necrony), Carl Fulli (Epidemic), Matt Harvey (Exhumed), Steve Goldberg (Cephalic Carnage), Ben Falgoust (Soilent Green, Goatwhore), Phil Fasciana (Malevolent Creation), Tony Laureno (ex-Nile, ex-Angelcorpse), Alan Averill (Primordial, Twilight of the Gods), Jason Fuller (Blood Duster), Alex Okendo (Masacre), Dave Witte (Municipal Waste, Human Remains), Lee Harrison (Monstrosity) and many more

Teitanblood – Death

March 17, 2014 –

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After black metal collapsed, fans went looking for the next great genre to fill the void. Unfortunately, the only “new” developments post-1996 have been of retrogression. Whether combining metal with vapidity (“post-black metal”), commercialism ((Watain, Satyricon)), or frequently both; fans were left without any direction to look to. After reviewing the situation, some honest people realized that “progression” was a sham and the solution was to take metal back to its earlier underground roots in death and speed metal.

Enter Teitanblood.

First, it must be mentioned that this band has a great many features pulling it ahead of 98% of contemporary death and black metal bands. Most importantly, the band is actually metal. It is not pop, grunge, or Japanese videogame music masked with metal aesthetics. Second, the music is competently organized in a manner which facilitates quick understanding of what the band is trying to achieve. Tracks are chaotic bursts of energy which merge the frenetic, kinetic mayhem of black metal with the lucidity of structure offered by death metal. Stream of consciousness motion stays grounded by the relatively consistent vocals, which serve as an anchor between the listener and the assault.

However, this type of composition is not without its pitfalls: due to its nature, songs end up sounding relatively uniform. This is not unheard of in the realm of death metal; however, the band seems to be discomfited by this and thus inserts disruptive moments which share more in common with modern black metal than is comfortable. These consist of slower, “ritualistic” meditations, which in reality is merely minor chord noodling over constipated rantings. Presumably this is supposed to compensate the direct audial rampage offered by the higher-energy sections with a darker mood, but it ends up sounding like a gimmick.

For Teitanblood to progress, it needs to learn how to unify these tendencies into a coherent presentation. If it achieves this, it will deserve all the praise heaped upon it now, but genuinely – as of now, the universal praise of this band reveals the general starvation of the underground metal community for quality releases.

Adramelech – Psychostasia re-issued by Xtreem Music

March 16, 2014 –

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Adramelech, long viewed as a younger brother to legendary Finnish death metal band Demigod, ride again with the re-issue of their classic Psychostasia on Xtreem Records. Revered for their ability to mix subtle melody with mid-paced death metal rhythms to produce an enveloping sense of pervasive darkness, Adramelech like Demigod found their way into many death metal collections but remained out of the spotlight that favored more dramatic bands.

The new version of Psychostasia features three live tracks, two taken from the Seven EP, and remastering of the original album. According to those who have heard it, this produces a louder but more even sound while preserving the nocturnal atmosphere and menacing ambiguity of the original.

Xtreem Music, a continuation of Repulse Records, continues a long tradition of putting out quality underground releases and now augments that tradition by adding quality re-issues such as this one to its catalog. A new generation of fans — being of the personality type too alert to be fooled by the circus music of metalcore or bore-drone of shoegaze black metal — may discover the majestic power and infernal might of classic Finnish death metal with this release.

Track List:

  1. Heroes in Godly Blaze 4:11
  2. Psychostasia 4:06
  3. Seance of Shamans 3:27
  4. The Book of the Worm 6:11
  5. Thoth (Lord of the Holy Words) 3:10
  6. Mythic Descendant 4:19
  7. As the Gods Succumbed 5:02
  8. Across the Gray Waters 3:59
  9. Intro – Heroes in Godly Blaze (live) 5:51
  10. The Sleep of Ishtar (live) 3:56
  11. Seven (live) 4:18

You can purchase Adramelech – Psychostasia here:

Master launches “North American Witchhunt Tour” in April

March 15, 2014 –
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A band from before death metal had coalesced into a genre, Master will tour North America during April 2014 as part of their “North American Witchhunt Tour” which will showcase a new touring lineup.

During the three weeks that Master will rage across North American stages in support of their most recent album, The Witchhunt, the band will comprise Paul Speckmann on bass/vocals, Alex Bouks (formerly of Incantation) on guitars, VJS on guitars, and drummer Ruston Groose.

Master continues evolving. From its earliest days as a punk/metal hybrid, to a period of intense technicality, and now in an era of massive aggression, Master has grown with the style it helped invent and now brings the latest iteration to fans across North America.

Tour Dates:

  • 4/17 Philadelphia, PA @Millcreek Tavern Inn
  • 4/18 Brooklyn, NY @ St. Vitus
  • 4/19 Wilmington, DE @ Mojo 13
  • 4/20 The Forvm – Buffalo, NY
  • 4/22 Chicago, IL @ Reggie’s
  • 4/23 St. Louis, MO @ Fubar
  • 4/24 Milwaukee, WI @ The Metal Grill
  • 4/25 Oklahoma City, OK @ Leon’s Metal Lounge
  • 4/26 3 Denver, CO @ 3 King’s Tavern
  • 4/28 Portland, OR @ Slabtown
  • 4/29 Seattle, WA @ 2 Bit Saloon
  • 4/30 Oakland,CA @ The Metro
  • 5/01 Rosemead, CA @ Spike’s
  • 5/02 Pomona, CA Characters
  • 5/03 Tempe, AZ @ Red Owl
  • 5/05 San Antonio, TX @ Korova
  • 5/06 New Orleans, LA @ Siberia
  • 5/07 Tampa, FL @ Brass Mug
  • 5/09 Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter

See also:

Interview with The Inverted Katabasis author Dean Swinford

March 11, 2014 –

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We were fortunate to get some time for a chat with Dean Swinford, author of Death Metal Epic I: The Inverted Katabasis. As a person with extensive experience in both death metal and literature, Swinford provides a great deal of insight into both.

You’ve walked dual paths in this life, both metal and literature. Do you see any parallels between them?

I definitely see lots of parallels between the two. Indirectly, you can find groups in any metal subgenre that work with myths or legends of some kind. More directly, so many metal songs have connections to specific books and stories by modern authors.

Beyond that, so many of the thank you lists in the liner notes specifically mention authors and books that influenced the musicians. I’ve never seen that done so consistently in any other modern music genre.

Both metal and literature are ways to, and I’m paraphrasing Dante a bit here, walk through the dark forest. I guess what I’m doing is joining the two so that I can write about the ways that the two paths become one. Just a note about the images in the interview — I’ve included some sketches from my journals to go along with the questions. I draw a lot when I’m writing and I think the images help to show how I worked through and continue to work through ideas for the books.

Figure 1. One of my characters (David? Nekrokor? Svart?) in the woods

Figure 1. One of my characters (David? Nekrokor? Svart?) in the woods

Your book, Death Metal Epic I: The Inverted Katabasis, is a fictional account of early 1990s Florida death metal — but it’s clear it was influenced by events that were far from fictional. What inspired this book, and how does it connect with your own story?

You’re right that the book has a number of features taken from my own life, but I’ve put them within the context of someone in an early 1990s Florida death metal band. I grew up in Miami and I was the music director of the college radio station at Florida International University.

A friend of mine did the metal show at University of Miami, and he also ran the metal section at Yesterday and Today Records. As you know from your experience in college radio, it’s pretty thrilling to talk to people from the labels, meet people from bands you like, and, of course, get music sent to you in the mail.

The places in the book are places I’ve lived in or traveled to, so in that sense, it’s a way for me to revisit different parts of my life. I’ve always liked coming of age stories and novels about artists and musicians. This seemed like a way to write that kind of book, but in a context that I’m familiar with. Also, I wanted to write something relatively light and funny that still dealt with some deeper themes.

I used to write stories that were more surreal or fantastic in their approach. I still use that kind of voice for the “metametal” chapters in the book. As I got older, I started to realize that it was more interesting and satisfying to write a story about every day events, about getting annoyed at your friend or suffering through the stomach flu.

One of the things I’ve always liked about metal is that it tends to be very escapist. I like songs about dragons, ancient rites, and forgotten deities precisely because I don’t encounter those things on a daily basis.

One of the things I’ve always liked about metal is that it tends to be very escapist. I like songs about dragons, ancient rites, and forgotten deities precisely because I don’t encounter those things on a daily basis. I guess if I’m doing anything new in the book, I’m taking that escapism and juxtaposing it with the kinds of struggles a lot of people seem to encounter as they move into their twenties.

Figure 2. Journaling with a portrait of Nekrokor

Figure 2. Journaling with a portrait of Nekrokor

Do you think death metal was inspired by literature? If so, what, and how did it shape the genre?

Oh, sure. I mean, if Tolkien’s orcs made folk music of their own, what would it sound like? When one of Lovecraft’s protagonists hears the batrachian choir that tips him into madness, what does he hear? And I think that it contributes to literature through what you could call the “poetics” of metal lyrics and the textual features of liner notes—the mix of images and lyrics paired with personal notes and lists from the musicians.

You mentioned in an email to me that you’ve found some metal lyrics that remind you of Neoplatonism. Could you explain what you mean?

Neoplatonism refers to the synthesis of pagan and Christian philosophy into a kind of mystical and theological framework that had a pretty broad influence until the early modern scientific revolution. I write about its influence on the astronomer Johannes Kepler in another book of mine, Through the Daemon’s Gate. I guess because I’m interested in Neoplatonism, I see traces of it everywhere. I don’t want to go into too much detail on this, but one specific example I could talk about is pretty evident in Inquisition‘s Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm. The idea of the macrocosm influencing the microcosm comes directly from Neoplatonism. The concept that space is a kind of tomb is evident in classical literature as well. In Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, the narrator ascends into space, where he speaks with the ghost of his dead grandfather. It’s no accident that the last word of each part of Dante’s Commedia is “stars.”

Another idea that Dagon mentions in the liner notes is what he calls the “eternal quest for infernal tone.” That idea of the true disciple uncovering the most diabolic tone is linked to the thematic concern of the album, which is the power that the macrocosm exerts on those of us on earth.

In Neoplatonism, the interlocking spheres of the cosmos produce tones that are perfect and inspire order in the sublunary realm. That’s the mystical element of Pythagoras’s theories on tonal proportions. The key shift from Pythagoras to Dagon is that, while the Ptolemaic universe was seen as orderly and divine, Inquisition’s musings tend more towards a contemplation of the universe as infinite chaos.

Do you still listen to metal? If so, what inhabits your player these days? How does this differ from the hazy glory days of the early 1990s?

Of course. I still get excited when I discover a band. Plus, I do most of my writing while listening to music, so I like to get something new as a writing reward when I meet some kind of deadline. I just picked up the two Atlantean Kodex albums and I am loving those. It helps that their myth-themed approach is just the kind of thing that I write about in my book. I mean, the second one is based on the same Robert Graves book that my character Juan is obsessed with, so I had to check it out!

I’m also really into some of the newer Inquisition albums, as mentioned above. Other current favorites include Obscura, Mournful Congregation, and this Dutch doom band Officium Triste. Of course, I still listen to all the classics, too. I listen to Candlemass and Solitude Aeternus a lot. As I’m writing these books, I try to listen to music that corresponds most with the plot. So, right now I’m trying to listen to things that meet the approval of Svart, the mastermind of Desekration.

Figure 3. Journaling and sketch of Svart's record shop

Figure 3. Journaling and sketch of Svart’s record shop

Do you detect any influences from Gothic or Romantic literature in death metal? If these aren’t direct influences, do you think the two genres converge on similar ideas because they’re writing about similar experiences/concepts?

I think you’re probably right. You could probably catalog a lot of specific references, everything from the Frankenstein samples on Morpheus DescendsRitual of Infinity to the painting by Caspar David Friedrich on the new Atlantean Kodex album. As far as similar experiences and concepts, I’d say that metal lyrics, like Gothic and Romantic lit, use fantasy as an indirect way to represent complex emotions like longing and despair.

You’re writing a paper on prosopopoeia, which I’m told is a rhetorical device in which a speaker or writer communicates by speaking through another object or person. How do you think this applies to metal?

Yeah, that’s right. I’m working on a paper that looks at corpsepaint as a kind of mask, especially given statements by Dead that he used corpsepaint to become or give voice to a victim of the Black Death. What’s interesting is that prosopopoeia is a device that seems to clearly apply to black metal performance — Dead popularized corpsepaint, but so many bands still use it — but the rhetorical device is also evident in the lyrics on De Mysteriis. There are more than a few examples in the lyrics of address from the point of view of a long-dead spirit. I think that’s interesting in the context of medievalism, or the ways that contemporary culture still uses or speaks through the Middle Ages as a way of talking about our own time.

Do you think this type of “mask” applies to black metal and hardcore punk more than other genres? Why would a genre need to conceal the origin of its thoughts — do you think that determination lies more with the band, or what the audience can tolerate?

I think that idea of masking occurs in every genre to some extent and probably waxes and wanes over time. Right now, it seems like it’s often used more as a genre marker than anything. You can buy an action figure of Lars Umlaut, the Guitar Hero character modeled off of the guys in Immortal.

In The Inverted Katabasis, you utilize a literary figure known as the katabasis. What is this and how does it apply to death metal and other underground genres?

Right — the katabasis is the mythical journey to Hell. It’s just a name to describe a kind of journey that lots of mythic heroes undertake. In most cases, it’s linked in some way to a quest against death or against the realization of one’s mortality. Orpheus goes to Hell to rescue his lady, but it doesn’t work out so well. He ends up wandering the world like a depressive, plucking doomy odes on his lyre until he gets ripped apart by Maenads. Dante’s journey into the underworld is a katabasis as well.

I’d say the connection to myth is really important. I remember seeing Nile a few years ago and it felt like they had, if even only temporarily, resurrected the dead gods.

So, an inverted katabasis is a journey out of hell. There’s a word for that, too. It’s called an “anabasis.” But I liked inverted katabasis better because it sounded more like something that could work as an album title. For David Fosberg, the inverted katabasis is an escape from the minimum wage hell of his life in Miami. Plus, my ironic treatment of the trope helps to put the book in its true genre, the mock epic.

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Several of the people I’ve talked to about this book have found in David Fosberg an uncanny portrait of the years following a successful second-tier death metal release that pushed the limits but never got big. Why do you think so many of these bands vanished into obscurity?

Thanks for that. In a lot of ways, I’m writing about metal, but I think that this trajectory is probably pretty common for people in any number of fields. The moment I’m writing about in the books goes from the time that death metal was big enough for bands like Napalm Death, Carcass, Cathedral, Godflesh, and Morbid Angel to get some major label attention to the influx of black metal that seemed to bring everything back to small, purposefully obscure labels.

In a lot of ways, this seems similar to the way the skateboarding industry crashed in the early nineties. As far as all the great bands that vanished into obscurity, my guess is that it’s because life is hard and, ultimately, releasing an album (or a book, for that matter) isn’t going to change that.

Do you think death metal has a place in education? If you were to teach death metal, say as a form of literature or art, how would you introduce it to your students?

Sure. There are a number of people working in that direction. Martin Jacobsen at West Texas A & M teaches a course on metal and literature. There’s an International Society for Metal Music Studies. Nicola Masciandaro and others have done a lot of work on theorizing black metal. I think if I were to link the two in a class, I’d do it as part of a broader exploration of medievalism.

You’ve moved on from death metal, but haven’t quite left it behind; it seems to live in your thoughts. What do you think is the enduring appeal of death metal? Did it have an artistic or generational statement to make that was profound then and remains so today?

That’s a good question. I think the way it pushes musical limits is important. Even with something like the speed of drumming featured in that recent Wall Street Journal article. For me, I’d say the connection to myth is really important. I remember seeing Nile a few years ago and it felt like they had, if even only temporarily, resurrected the dead gods. That process has long been an important part of human culture.

In another interview, you said that your own musical project had “layers of ambient keyboards and lyrics taken from myths, the sagas, and so forth.” Do you think you were ahead of the times, having seen how black metal shifted in that direction after its initial thrust (Neptune Towers, Beherit, Ildjarn, Wardruna, Burzum)?

I wish! I recorded it in a radio station studio like the one I describe in the book. By the time I started to figure out what I was doing, I had to return my studio key in a situation pretty similar to what happens to Juan. I still think there’s a way to use this approach to make something interesting. Maybe someday.

Yours appears to be one of the first entries in the “death metal literature” genre. Do you think this field is going to grow?

I think so. Since I’ve been getting my book out there, I’ve met a lot of people who seem really interested in the possibilities of metal lit, or whatever you want to call it. Kriscinda Lee Everitt has started a journal for metal themed fiction called Despumation Press, so anyone who has a story to tell should send in a submission.

Speaking of growing, I understand that The Inverted Katabasis is part of an ongoing series. How big does it get? Do you have fantasy worlds like Mordor and Hogwarts for us?

That’s right. The current plan is to do three books. What’s more metal than an epic trilogy, right? It might be even more metal if I never actually finish. I try to make the bands, characters, and albums in the books as convincing as I can so that they take on a life of their own. That’s probably one of my favorite parts of this. I really enjoy the creative process of inventing new band logos, albums, characters, and liner notes. Who knows? Maybe someday, someone will cover a Katabasis song or try to recreate the groundbreaking work of Astrampsychos.

Figure 5. The Astrampsychos logo and some notes on the ocarina

Figure 5. The Astrampsychos logo and some notes on the ocarina

What’s your next step in your career as a death metal writer — are you going to continue working on the books linearly, write short stories, or return to music and use it to accompany the next volume?

Right now, I’m trying to finish up the second book of the Death Metal Epic. The next one is going to be called The Goat Song Sacrifice. There will be new characters, new bands, new struggles for David Fosberg to endure.