Interview: Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone

August 14, 2014 –

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Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone is Associate Professor of Anthropology, and Curator of the McClure Archives and University Museum, at the University of Central Missouri. She specializes in the study of gender and sexuality in music scenes, and also works as in textile curation and preventive conservation.

Dr. Clifford-Napoleone also curates the largest collections of Middle Eastern traditional material culture in America. She is also a lifelong metal fan and one of the founders of the International Society for Metal Music Studies. She lives in rural Missouri with her wife, three dogs, and a very large collection of industrial metal.

We were lucky to get a few words with Dr. Clifford-Napoleone on the topic of metal and its relation to power and her study area of specialty.

You are an anthropologist. What drew you to this discipline?

I got into anthropology as a young child. I used to pretend I was Howard Carter in King Tut’s tomb! I started volunteering at a museum, working for an anthropologist, when I was a freshman in high school. I planned on being an archaeologist, but I didn’t like the excavations as much as the lab work. Then I started working in material culture studies and ethnography, and everything just clicked. I love the way that anthropology teaches us how to be more human, to revel in diversity as our biological imperative, to really see the world for the enormous ball of complexity that it is.

What is the anthropological perspective on heavy metal? Has this been enhanced by your own personal knowledge of and enjoyment of this genre?

Lots of folks might think anthropology and heavy metal is an odd fit, but actually anthropologists have worked on topics in heavy metal for a long time. Jeremy Wallach, one of the founders of metal studies, is a cultural anthropologist working on heavy metal in Indonesia. Sam Dunn, whom I am sure many of your readers know from his films, is an anthropologist from Canada. There are many others. For an anthropologist, all aspects of human life are considered both unique and important. That extends to heavy metal as well, and anthropologists who work on heavy metal topics discuss is cultural, social, artistic and sonic effects in all sorts of ways. As to your second question, the answer is a resounding yes. I tell my own students that they will always be successful if their career engages them in things they are passionate about. I love heavy metal, and my passion for heavy metal is absolutely part of my ability to think, talk and write about metal as an anthropologist.

You’ve got a book coming out in 2014 about queer fans in heavy metal. Can you tell me more about what’s going to be in it?

My book on queer fans (Queerness in Heavy Metal: Metal Bent, to be published by Routledge and released in February 2015) is the result of seven years of work talking to queer fans, and researching the influence of queer performers and lyrics on heavy metal scenes. My book includes a lot of material about the role queerness played, and continues to play, in heavy metal. That includes the information I received from over 500 self-identified queer fans who took my online survey, and dozens that participated in individual interviews with me. I see my work as transdisciplinary- anthropology certainly, but also metal studies, ethnomusicology, cultural studies, gender and sexuality. I’m trying to make the case the metal is inherently a queer institution.

How do you study queer fans of heavy metal? What kind of barriers do you face in trying to contact them, learn about them and so on?

Queer fans of heavy metal are more connected than you might think. There are a handful of active discussion groups, listservs and websites devoted to queer fans of heavy metal, as well as some Facebook groups and blogs. As a queer metal fan myself, I was already a member of a lot of those groups. Once I started posting the link to the survey online, queer fans just sent it out to other lists, groups, and folks that they knew. I’ve also posted it on my blog and website, and always talk about it when I give lectures or papers at conferences. Because my survey is anonymous, queer fans feel pretty comfortable telling me exactly what they think too. I ended up with information from queer fans from six continents and 39 countries.

Rob Halford is generally credited with heavy metal’s imagery of leather clothing, whips, motorcyles and studded leather belts. In one VH1 documentary I watched (yes a very credible source!) one of the pundits credited this imagery to the gay community in London in the 1970s. In your view, is this correct? Has heavy metal appropriated most of its image from the gay community?

In my opinion, there is absolutely no doubt that Halford started that trend, and even less doubt that it came from the gay leather community. This is one of the things I discuss in detail in my book. Did earlier metal acts wear leather jackets? Sure, taken either from post-World War II bomber jacket style, or late 1960s leather belted coats, or even from the post-war motorcycle culture in America and the Rockers in the UK. The problem is, if you take an image of Halford premiering his leather look, and set it side-by-side with Sabbath or Motorhead or even Blue Cheer, you’ll see that Halford’s leather is entirely different. Ozzy wore striped bell bottom jeams and a brown belted coat for many of their early appearances. Even Alice Cooper wore bell bottoms and white clothes on stage until Halford picked up a whip. If you take that same iconic image of Halford’s leather look and set it next to images from gay leather culture, you have an exact match. Rob Halford has, over the years, given some different statements on whether he identified with leather culture or not, but that’s where the look came from. What I find interesting is not only that heavy metal style comes from gay leather culture, but how heavy metal also appropriated the masculinity that came with that and then pretended that didn’t happen. If you really think about it, if we push masculinity to its limits can we get any more masculine than muscular leather men who only have sex with other men? Funny that heavy metal keeps trying to refashion that as straight male masculinity, when it never was.

Other than overlap between members, what do you think are the similarities between the heavy metal experience and the gay experience? Are both outsider groups, thus privy to certain knowledge that the socially accepted cannot perceive, or is it something else?

I can tell you one thing for certain- the queer fans I’ve spoken with see and feel an overlap. One fan called this feeling “outsider togetherness,” this idea that queer metal fans are outsiders in two overlapping worlds. The similarities between these overlapping outsider worlds are the kinds of similarities that anthropologists see in most marginalized groups: a coded language, symbols that mean something specific that people who are not outsiders do not understand, certain styles, and particular ways of using space. For example, let’s consider the dog collar, a popular accessory in heavy metal and punk scenes. I remember in the 1980s, we all did odd jobs around my neighborhood so we could buy studded dog collars at pet stores to look tough. I had a leather studded collar that I actually took off my dog to wear, and I equated it with being tough and being metal. That was the symbol of being a metal chick. Now, many years later, I know that people in BDSM relationships refer to certain submissives as being “collared” or “under the collar.” For BDSM-identified folks, seeing someone in a leather vest and a collar might mean something much more complex than just “I’m a tough metal chick.” The coded ways of existing in marginalized groups is complex insider knowledge, and for queer fans of heavy metal, even more complex because you can see where the codes overlap.

You also have expertise in textiles and their conservation. Are there any parallels you can draw between the conservation of textiles and the conservation of a culture or art form? What about a lifestyle?

Conservation is a big and tricky word. The idea is that you are preventing further damage, keeping something safe for perpetuity. As a museum curator, I work with textiles so that future generations can access them, study them, and perhaps understand something about the people who used them. I think that, in some way, we are always involved in the act of conserving our culture, whether that be lifestyles or arts or anything else. We record our music, we photograph things that signal our interests, we hand down important belongings- even the selfie that we see so often in social media is an example of conserving yourself, your life. How often do you tell a story about yourself, post a pic of your dinner or your beer on Facebook, post your music and art to the web so that others can rip, save or archive it? I think that for me, and speaking as a museum curator, the biggest conservation challenge is a digital one. It will be interesting to see what is actually conserved from an increasingly digital world. After all, how many emails do we actually print to save for some future archive?

Conserving a lifestyle or an art form is difficult. As an anthropologist, I think it might even be impossible. You cannot stop change. Human beings change, their environment changes, societies expand and contract. Art objects, recordings or paintings or quilts, we can conserve those. But conserving a lifestyle suggests we can trap humans in time like ancient insects encased in amber. And we can’t. Even if we could, I’m not sure we should. Heavy metal, as a subculture and an assemblage of scenes, has so many artifacts to leave behind: sounds, styles, film, images, on and on. But conserving the actual feeling of standing on a floor with a thousand other metalheads, blast beats shaking your bones, heads banging in rhythm? I don’t think we could conserve that any more than we could conserve our other feelings. Heavy metal has to change too, it is a human movement.

In a blog post, you mention studying the connections between leather and metal communities. What kind of connections are these? How do we observe them?

The connections are long-standing and quite deep. The first gay rights organization chartered in the United States was a leather motorcycle club, The Satyrs. Young metalheads, and later industrial and goth metal fans, found themselves welcomed in leather bars, clubs and parties where their tastes in style were not seen as threatening. After Halford premiered his leather look the ties became even more solid: metal performers donning leather gear, leather organizations using metal imagery and language, even the appearance of metal tracks at leather bars and parties. I think the key to observing them, however, is to know the history of leather-identified people in the western world. Leather-identified folks have been vilified and stereotyped for decades, both people in the queer communities and people form the straight communities. If you really want to understand those connections, you have to engage with leather culture in a new way. A visit to the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago is a great start, I can never thank the staff there enough for everything they do for the leather community and its history. My week there as Visiting Scholar was one of the most important intellectual periods of my career.

You refer to metal as a “transitory space.” What defines a transitory space? What can be done in a transitory space that can’t be done in a regular cultural/artistic space?

Transitory essentially means temporary, almost an ethereal space that will only be there for a blink in time. If we think about metal concerts, for example, I think we see a good example. Imagine a concert experience you’ve had: the sound, the crowd, the music in your ears and the bass thumping in your bones. But when the concert ends, the metal space evaporates. The memory of it sits in your brain and your bones, but the next concert will be nothing like the one before. Transitory spaces provide a place for playing with the rules, because it is all going up in smoke anyway. I went to a Killswitch Engage show last year, and down in the mosh pit was a very tall, extremely muscular guy in a Little Bo Peep outfit. He was moshing with ferocity, with his bonnet on and his lace skirts flapping away. Am I going to see that at every show? Hell no, I’ve been going to shows for 25 years and that’s my first Bo Peep in the moshpit. Did I see that, hear it, feel it the same way as the guy standing next to me? Not even possible, I have no idea what he was thinking about Bo Peep. And when the show was over, Bo Peep was gone. You can’t play like that in a permanent space. If I showed up at the office tomorrow in a Bo Peep outfit, I’d be sent home.

For many years I’ve considered metal to be music dedicated to power, where most other music is dedicated to satiation. Do you see power as important in metal? How do power, sex and attitudes toward gender reveal themselves?

Power is such a slippery concept, isn’t it. Power over what, or who? Empowered or powerful? I agree, I think metal is about power. But I also think metal is about the brutality of life, about survival no matter how bloody the battle. Power in metal is so much about metal as a home for outsiders, a place where those of us who feel like we don’t fit (for whatever reason) find a place where the extremity of the sound matches the extremity of our experiences. It is a power that really refuses to bow to authority, and a bodily refusal at that since metal is so physical. So in metal we’re not really saying “I’m in power, I will tell you what to do,” we’re saying, “I’m a survivor, you can’t tell me what to do.” There’s a fascinating dynamic in there. Sex and gender, especially for people whose bodies, desires and orientations don’t fit what mainstream authority says is acceptable, fits in that conception of power. It’s my body, you can’t tell me what to do with it. I’ve read a lot online recently suggesting that hyperfeminine women in metal were anti-feminist too, and I don’t agree. Third wave feminism is right in line with the thinking about power in metal. There’s very little difference between “you can’t tell me what to do” and “get your laws off my body.” For queer folks, the power in metal also means that your refusal to bow to authority might mean losing family, friends, being isolated, and for intersex and trans folks the very real fight against a world that demands you act your body. Imagine the bodily refusal, the physical power in that individual act. This is sonic power too. You hear a song that empowers you, and it travels with you in your ears, in your memory, in your tissues. You see a show that empowers you, and the sight is branded on your brain.

In addition to your book, you’re fully active in the academic community including supporting metal. What’s ahead for you?

A lot. I’m giving one of the keynote lectures at the Metal and Cultural Impact conference in Ohio this November, and then getting ready for the Metal, Markets and Materials international conference in Helsinki in June 2015. I’m Treasurer for the International Society for Metal Music Studies, and we’re going to have a busy year getting membership systems rolling and the first issue of the journal Metal Music Studies out to the world. I’ve also got some essays in a couple of forthcoming collections, one based on the presentations at the Cologne conference in 2008, and another from the meeting in Puerto Rico last March. I’m lucky, I get to spend part of my day working with the smartest metal intellectuals on Earth, bringing metal studies to the masses. I’ve also got a second book on the way soon, the publication of my doctoral dissertation on sexuality in jazz scene Kansas City before World War II.

Do you think academia’s expanding focus on metal has brought more light to outsider communities? What do you think is responsible for the post-2006 relatively large expansion in metal and academia?

I think outsider communities are always going to be outside in some way. In truth, several of us who identify as metal scholars talk about our concerns in bringing academic attention to metal. But let’s face it, metal has always received a lot of attention, and not always positive. And it survives, maybe better than it ever has before, and still just as outsider as always. If we can survive Tipper Gore and Hot Topic, then metal will be just fine. I do think that the academic work on metal will bring better, more focused attention to metal scenes and fans, instead of the tired old stereotypes. As for the increased attention, that’s the work of a core of brilliant metalhead folks who are teaching, writing, and thinking about heavy metal in academic terms.

Can you tell us about your own history with metal? How did you get involved? Were you a fan first, or a researcher first?

Definitely a fan first. I started listening to metal as a kid growing up in west Texas. In my mixed-race and working class neighborhood you listened to three things: metal, country, and pop music from Mexico. I grew up listening to a tossed salad of Sabbath, Bob Wills and Menudo. First metal record I “owned” (I bootlegged it from the radio) was Black Sabbath’s “Fairies Wear Boots.” Then I got an 8-track of Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida,” it was 1979 and my mom got it for me at a garage sale, I was 5. It was all downhill after that. I was a big-haired 80s glam band girl in the 80s, with posters of Motley Crue on the wall, and I have Tipper Gore to thank for turning me on to Judas Priest. By the mid to late 1990s I was a Rivethead, and I still love industrial and industrial goth metal. I started reading academic work about metal when I was in graduate school in the late 1990s. By the time I was done with my dissertation, I knew I wanted to devote my research to heavy metal.

Metal folks always want to know what you’re into now. I like my metal heavy, weapons grade plutonium heavy. I’m not much for thrash and speed metal. A good sludge album, a heavy shoegaze record, something dark and funereal- that’s what I prefer. I also listen to records by bands with openly queer members, and a ton of classic NWOBHM. Priest is my favorite band of all time. Last show I went to was Killswitch Engage, and my next three shows are Motley Crue’s farewell, Joan Jett and then Judas Priest’s latest tour. And my favorite recording right now? Torche’s Leather Feather.

Interview: Unaussprechlichen Kulten

August 5, 2014 –

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We recently reviewed Unaussprechlichen Kulten Baphomet Pan Shub-Niggurath, a death metal album that knits together old school and newer styles of the underground metal art. We were lucky to get a few moments with Joseph Curwen, guitarist and composer, to explain the intricate secrets behind this dark cult act.

Do you identify with the “old school spirit” in the metal underground? If so, what is it and how does it emerge in your music?

Not really. “Old School” sounds like a “nostalgic trend” of “clone bands.” For us the Death Metal way is one style. It may have variants like brutal, old style or mixtures with other styles. But if the bands begin to clone all — the style, sound and even the graphics and pics — this really… sucks. Poorly made copies are not necessary! The “Sunlight” or “Tampa Florida” styles are wonderful and are always “inspiring,” I know it’s difficult to innovate in a “strict” style and with so many old bands as reference … but if a band does not have in its purpose something new, creative, original… anything in particular that distinguishes… why make that band?

The name “Unaussprechlichen Kulten” or “nameless cults” comes from the Cthulhu mythos, as do many of your song titles. How important is Lovecraft’s work to your art, and to metal in general? What other occult/romantic/fantasy writers influence you?

You are right about our name. Lovecraft’s literary legacy is rich in terminology and knowledge, therefore allows us to explain with his words the religious or spiritual concepts that otherwise we would be forced to use “Christian” or “common” terms so they can be understood. Lovecraft always publicly declared himself to be an atheist, but his erudition in the occult was something more than an amateur.
Therefore we are not only focused on the work of Lovecraft. We also include other topics, including Chilean mythology. The Necromancy is not unique to any particular culture, so what we do is explore in different subjects, always mystical and dark, but with the work of Lovecraft as a reference. Other interesting writers are Robert Bloch and Robert E. Howard, classics occultist like Blavatsky and Eliphas Levi, even contemporary Chilean writers as Oreste Plath and M. Serrano and others

Metal has always been influenced by the literature of Terror, and Lovecraft is the horror writer who made the most important revolution in the genre. He will always be a benchmark in the lyrics of Metal bands.

Baphomet Pan Shub-Niggurath sounds like it takes influence from both newer and older raditions in underground metal. What are your influences? Which of these did you find most useful in creating this album?

A lot of influences, you know mainly 80-90. Classic Swedish and American death Mmetal. Some from South American or Scandinavian… older? …mmm INCANTATION, NECRODEATH, GORGUTS, SHUB NIGGURATH, IMMOLATION, NECRODEATH, PENTAGRAM, MORBID ANGEL (old), MORTA SKULD, DISMEMBER, the mighty SADISTIC INTENT, DEMIGOD (old), MORTEM, and of course SLAYER, MERCYFUL FATE, SACRIFICE….. Newer? Throneum, Karnarium, Deathspell Omega, Godless, After Death, Dead Congregation, Hatespawn, Katharsis among many others.

In the early 1990s, there were few bands and not that many fans. Now there are more of both, and metal is accepted as normal in the mainstream press. How has this changed what it is to be a metal band? How has it not changed how it is to be a metal band?

Good question. It’s been over 20 years and society (worldwide) changed. We live in the information age; in the early 90s without internet, the bands depended on the promotion and diffusion that could be done through the “official” and monopolized media (radio, tv, zines Poser, label’s flyers, etc). Now every band can do their own promotion, also in these 20 years there was a “democratization” of recording technologies now make it possible to make music in a “Home Studio” way. More music available and easier to access it produces “the moment” in which we live.

This album embraces a dark and occult way of putting riffs in order and making songs of them. How do you know which riffs fit with each other? And how do you compose a song — do you start with a melody, a riff, an idea, an image?

From “People of the Monolith” onward our approach has always been the same way — to do riffs. I bring the riffs, arrangements and dis-harmonies of both guitars (I come with everything done and ready in accordance to what lyrics need like faster, slower or thicker parts, strange arrangements, etc.). It’s personal, a kind of trance. I only think in the “concept” and the lyrics, while I do an old trick: I move my fingers over the guitar until I’m no longer playing at random, but there is a “pattern” becoming a “riff.” Once I show the guitars to Butcher, drumming is 100% his responsibility. Then we adjust the structure and cuts together in the rehearsal room. When that base is settled, we incorporate the bass (based on drums). I used to do the bass but in this last record, NAMRU IMPETRADORUM MORTEM was integrated into the creative process of basses, all of them were 100% invented by him in Chapter VIII.

How did Unaussprechlichen Kulten form? Did you know each other from previous bands? Did you have a stated goal in coming together and forming the band?

In the beginning we was just two members, with no previous bands, the first name was “SPAWN.” With that name we just recorded 5 tracks of traditional Death Metal (never edited!). During that period of time I always felt unsettled about the name of the band so I decided to change it for a name in Spanish: “Culto Innombrable” was the one that came into my mind, it was a good name, we even made a logo. At that time I realize about the coincidence with the apocryphal Lovecraftian book: “UNAUSSPRECHLICHEN KULTEN”, diabolically whispered in my ear by Azathoth!

How well has the album been received so far? As more people hear your music, will your plans change? What comes next for Unaussprechlichen Kulten?

So far very good reviews, but our plans will not change. We are a “not popular” or “trendy” band. It has been more than ten years since it all began. So far we are a very unknown band out of Chile, we have been into the deep underground always, and I think will always be so because of our style. Death Metal is not a “trendy” style at this moment; now Death Metal is made by people who are stubborn and headstrong which maintains this “sectarian” behavior. It is true that more and more bands are appearing… on one hand this is good … the “scene” looks “healthy,” alive, which allows bands to exist and makes the media interested in promoting them (and of course in our case, more people hear our music), but on the other hand, also the “overpopulation” of bands is huge, generating a size of information unable to be processed. “A lot of bands” are not synonymous with “quality of bands.”

Interview with Brett Stevens at MetalRecusants.com

April 27, 2014 –

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

Interview with Terry Butler of Massacre

March 9, 2014 –

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Massacre carved a place for themselves in the death metal community years ago and with their foundational From Beyond, an album of tremolo-picked columnar death metal with big fuzzy production at a time when many death metal bands were still trying to emulate the muted-picked speed metal of the previous era.

Over two decades later, Massacre returns with Back From Beyond which sees release on April 1, 2014 via Century Media records. We were fortunate to be able to grab a few words with bassist Terry Butler, whose work with Massacre, Death, Six Feet Under and other Florida death metal bands has made him a towering legend in the community.

You’re about to unleash a new work, Back From Beyond. Since the title effectively compares it to your breakthrough album From Beyond, can you tell us: how are these albums different in approach, in style and in production?

In the case of From Beyond, the songs had been written five years prior, so when we signed to Earache, we just jumped in the studio and recorded them. We tried to keep the production simple and raw. The approach for Back From Beyond was “let’s not rush and re-hash songs for a quick release.” We took our time with the songwriting and production. It’s been 22 years, why rush? The production is better on Back From Beyond. Tim Vasquez did a great job!

What do you think Back From Beyond is adding to death metal, twenty plus years past its inception?

We are just playing Death Metal the way we like it. Heavy riffs, catchy in your face and brutal. I like rhythms I can remember. As far as adding something new, no one is adding something new these days. It’s all been done. We are just doing what we do.

You released an EP, Condemned to the Shadows, in 2012. How different is that material from what we’ll hear on Back From Beyond?

It’s musically in the same vein. More of the same basically. We re-recorded the two tracks from that EP. They are sonically different and production-wise sound different.

Can you tell us how Massacre assembled? I know it pre-dated Death, but after Death fragmented the members came together for From Beyond. Can you connect those dots for us?

Bill Andrews formed Massacre in ’84. At that stage it was mostly covers. Kam [Lee] joined in ’85 and a three-song demo was released. Rick [Rozz] joined in ’86 and a four-song demo was released. In early ’87, Rick, Bill, and I joined Death. After four years in Death, Bill and I contacted Rick, and Massacre was back together. We signed to Earache and put out From Beyond and Inhuman Condition. After several tours the band split up again. Now 22 years later, we are back. That’s the gist of it. In a nutshell.

At the time when From Beyond came out, most of Florida death metal was focusing on blasting and choppier, more muted strum percussive riffing. Massacre went for the full on fast-tremolo strum and big fuzzy burly warm sound guitar production. What made you take this different path?

That’s the Massacre sound and philosophy. Rick was in Mantas in ’83 writing this way and in Death in ’84 and ’85 writing this way. He wrote most of the material on From Beyond. He wrote half of Leprosy. I co-wrote four songs on Spiritual Healing. So what I’m trying to say is: this is our style. The songs on From Beyond were written in ’86. No disrespect to blasting, but the Massacre sound was cemented years before.

Do you think your different path helped ‘From Beyond’ achieve the cult status it has among death metal devotees?

Yes, in a way. The band didn’t at the time, no, but we were influencing the likes of Napalm Death, Carcass etc. Joining Death, then coming back and putting out From Beyond only helped the status of Massacre. The whole time I was in Six Feet Under, people kept asking about Massacre. For the band to still be relevant in 2014 speaks volumes about the music!

Was Bill Andrews unable to make the reunion? Is he still into death metal at all?

Unfortunately… no. He doesn’t play anymore and doesn’t listen to Death Metal. I still talk to him regularly though. He lives in Japan now.

Rick Rozz has an entirely unique guitar style marked by, among other things, “whammy bar abuse.” What influenced this style, and are we still going to hear the torturing of whammy bars?

The whammy bar is still in effect and deadlier than ever ha-ha… He draws a lot of influence from K.K. Downing and Kerry King, as far as the whammy goes. I personally think it’s a lost art these days.

What do you think determines whether a band is death metal or not? Is death metal the same genre it was back in 1992, or has it changed?

I think it’s mix of music and vocals. Obviously the first thing is vocals. If you put opera vocals over Cannibal Corpse songs it’s not Death Metal, and if you put Cannibal Corpse vocals over Journey songs it’s not Death Metal. Darker, heavier music with low brutal vocals is the formula for Death Metal. I believe Death Metal has changed since ’92, a bit. There are more off-shoots, such as Black Metal, Crust, and Grind, these days. I think Death Metal back then was more about riffs and grooves; now it’s about speed and fashion.

About what mix of old/new songs do you think you’ll play on tour? How are you preparing for the tour?

The mix will be about 50/50. We still have to play the hits ha-ha. We will practice as much as possible for the tour.

From Beyond featured mostly “mythological” lyrics, drawn from Lovecraft and horror movies. It wasn’t so much “social consciousness.” Do you think metal tends toward a mythological direction?

I think it’s a mix of both. Obliviously you have your satanic lyrics and religious themes, but a lot of bands do sing about current events. The satanic and mythological lyrics are kind of written for you already.

How do you all feel about launching a huge new album and tour two decades after you started out? Did you ever think Massacre would get this big?

I think it’s amazing and we are very excited about it. Like I said earlier , it says a lot about our music that we are still relevant after 22 years.

Interview: metal academic John Sewell of the University of West Georgia

February 18, 2014 –

As part of our exploration of the ideas behind the metal, we take frequent peeks into the world of academia, where a number of metal academics are writing, teaching and evangelizing heavy metal as a cultural and artistic force. This is one mechanism for metal to rise above mere “product” status and be understood as a phenomenon with something to contribute to our understanding and society at large.

Today we chat with metal professor John Sewell, author of “Doing it For The Dudes”: A Comparative Ethnographic Study of Performative Masculinity in Heavy Metal and Hardcore Subcultures and the University of West Georgia’s resident metal analyst. We’re grateful to him for sparing us the time to chat about the meaning behind metal, and what it is that makes this genre quite difficult to pin down.

How did you become an academic? Was this something that you aspired to your whole life?

The academic thing kind of happened by accident. I wanted to be a musician — and I kind of was. For around 20 years I played in bands while supporting myself as a pizza delivery guy and, after finishing my BS in Journalism in 1997, a freelance writer for alternative newspapers. Most of my bands did OK, meaning that I toured a good bit, played on several independent releases, and had a little bit of regional notoriety. But I (finally) had my midlife crisis and accepted that music wasn’t going to happen for me. I enrolled in a Master’s program in Journalism, mainly because I didn’t know what else to do with myself at the time. And then it got interesting.

Do you identify as a metalhead? Or maybe I should ask: is there a pattern of metal music listening in your past?

I have always listened to metal, but I consider myself more of a punk rocker who loves metal than a metalhead per se. In the early 80s I discovered Venom and Motorhead, and then the metal/hardcore crossover thing. I especially loved Black Flag, who had a definite metal influence on their later albums. I listened to a lot of metal in the 80s and 90s, but it was kind of an addendum to the punk and hardcore music I really loved. During that period the metal bands were really macho and seemed too focused on getting mainstream success, which turned me off. But metal has always been an important part of my musical menu.

In 2006 I moved to Atlanta to be in Georgia State University’s Ph.D. program in Public Communication. I’ve always gone to a lot of shows, and Atlanta’s metal scene is huge, and there are tons of excellent bands right now. So I ended up going to a lot of metal shows and really digging it. By this time, metal, hardcore and punk had kind of morphed into this big ugly thing that I loved. I found myself being able to relate to the metal crowd better. The metal shows gave that unified-yet-dangerous feeling I used to get at punk and hardcore shows. Seeing these bands live made it click for me. Metal is best appreciated at shows. I’d see these crazy-ass, discordant bands I’d go home and listen to the music on my own. The noisy, extreme stuff started sounding more like music to me.

What do you find interesting about metal, both (a) individually and (b) as a research topic?

Metal is interesting because it’s never going to go away. Metal has the most ardent fans of any rock music subgenre. What’s really interesting is that metal has become more underground instead of being absorbed into the mainstream. In this way, metal subculture has had kind of a backwards progression. Diehard metal fans know their music isn’t going to get wildly popular and their scene isn’t going to be coopted per se. The bands just get more extreme and the scene gets more alienated from the mainstream. It’s perfect.

Metal is interesting as a research topic because there’s all this crazy stuff going on. Metal is not just music, it’s a collective identity. And this identity has a lot of implications about power, race, class, gender and sexuality. There’s this perception in the mainstream that metal is kind of dumb — that it’s this “trash” culture. And metalheads almost embrace this proud pariah thing. Being a metalhead might have negative impact on social mobility, but metalheads really couldn’t care less.

Your research indicates that black metal finds importance in “transgression.” What is transgression?

I’m a little bit wary of this question because I don’t want to establish some static definition. What seems transgressive for one person might seem like conformity to another. Kahn-Harris does a great job of addressing this with his concepts of transgressive and mundane subcultural capital.
Anyway, I think of transgression as purposeful refusal and/or inversion — finding beauty in ugliness, power through alienation or embracing the queer, for example.

You say that, “Black metal’s self-maintaining categorical imperative produces a constituency strictly demarcated and alienated from the mainstream” and suggest that black metal’s subcultural rules serve to further separate its members from mainstream society. Why do you think this behavior has evolved, and has it succeeded in what it was an attempt to do?

Black metal is interesting because its progenitors (well, the few surviving ones, that is) keep rewriting their histories to fit grand artistic and ideological schemes. From the onset, the early black metal guys like Dead, Euronymous and Varg Vikernes probably just wanted to make the wildest, heaviest music possible. They were kids who were playing around with dangerous stuff.

The crazy stuff like murders and church-burnings, well, that seems like adolescent one-upmanship to me — kind of a contest to see who could be the most hard and evil. But the murders and church-burnings were the grist for the hysteria, and the hysteria drew worldwide attention to what was before a sub-underground phenomenon that may well have otherwise frittered out.

Here we are over 20 years later and the progenitors (Hunt-Hendrix terms this bunch “hyperborean black metal”) are still, more or less the archetypes in terms of sound, self-presentation and at least to a degree ideology. I think USBM has backpedaled on the Norse/Aryan/Nazi stuff, which is bullshit anyway. But that ideology of transgression/refusal remains a linchpin of black metal. In this way black metal (like all other long-running subcultures) is a thing that cannot be: Can a collectivity of rebels really rebel? And if black metal’s categorical imperative is the annihilation of the self, why has it stayed around so long? “Success,” as the annihilation of the self, would have impelled an end to the subculture. And black metal is not going away.

I think the difference here (and the reason for the persistence of black metal subculture) is that we are talking about artistic and symbolic transgression — not transgression in the lived world per se. Dead and (especially) Varg Vikernes, among others, crossed the boundaries between symbolic transgression and transgression in the lived world, and ended up dead or in jail as a result. There’s not so much idiotic behavior associated with black metal today, or at least it’s not as idiotic. And so it goes.

The filmmakers of the black metal documentary “Until the Light Takes Us” refer to their film as a study in the decay of meaning. Does meaning decay? Is there any way to stop it from doing so? Does this correspond at all to the in-group behaviors you have observed?

It’s been a few years since I’ve seen the movie, and I think I should go back and watch it again. I only saw it once on cable, and I was probably playing guitar, eating dinner and working a crossword puzzle at the same time. When I saw it I thought it was pretentious and slow.

This is a tough question because I don’t know exactly what the filmmakers meant by “decay of meaning,” and I don’t know whether this decay of meaning was what they really intended to convey in the film — or if that was just a hifalutin concept to tack on in an interview.

Anyway, I don’t think meaning decays as much as it evolves. Meaning is polysemic. Meaning is relative. I think it’s most productive to look at black metal music and subculture as discourse. Meanings, within discourse, are not static.

A better way to understand black metal might be as an evolution of myth instead of as a decay of meaning. Black metal is in its way ideological, and thus subject to semiotics. Black metal subculture is — like it or not — a collective phenomenon. And subculture is the terrain upon which shared meanings are contested and policed. In black metal (or any subculture), meanings evolve through interaction. “Decay of meaning” sounds more badass, and thus more black metal. But I don’t think meaning is decaying in black metal. Meaning is actually fertile in black metal — especially the meaning of myth. And the collective negotiation of meaning in black metal is where the action is.

Further in this paper — this is Pure Fucking Armageddon — you say “Black metal atomizes the ‘I,’” — forgive me if this is redundant, but are you sure that black metal did this? Are some people so constructed that their spiritual, social, philosophical and mental needs are incompatible with our current civilization?

Black metal at least symbolically atomizes the “I.” And this brings us to another of black metal’s many paradoxes. Black metal’s refusal/transgression is in its way individualistic, but the identity of the individual in black metal is oftentimes atomized — or at least obfuscated. I mean, look at the interchangeability of people with corpsepaint! Look at how similar (and similarly unreadable) the band logos are! And when Joe Smith changes his name to Sardonicus, well, Joe Smith is symbolically annihilated.

Sure, some people’s spiritual, social, philosophical and mental needs are incompatible with our current civilization. This is nothing new. Subcultures are collectivities that exist within the greater culture — and these collectivities, even black metal, operate as havens for the proud pariahs. Black metal indeed fulfills spiritual and philosophical needs for the alienated — and it also offers an identity and a sense of belonging. So in some ways people actually find identity through the conduit of black metal. It’s strange.

Do you think there’s a point to academically chronicling black metal past the 1993-1994 watershed era? Is the music today even from the same genre?

This is another yes and no answer. Today’s black metal is far evolved from what Mayhem and Emperor did way back when. Personally, I don’t think the music of any of those bands associated with murders and church-burnings was that good, anyway.

Every subgenre of rock music undergoes continual redefinition. For example, today’s hardcore is nothing like what hardcore was in 1982. Today’s psychobilly is not the same as the psychobilly of 1990. And of course the same goes for black metal.

Genre classification seems a necessary evil, though. The meanings of genre and accompanying subculture classifications evolve semiotically, and today’s meanings are never exactly yesterday’s or last year’s meanings. Scholars from the symbolic interactionist camp would probably have a lot to say about this. I think that genres and subcultures should be conceptualized as continuums with permeable, ever-evolving boundaries.

Today’s music and today’s scene is not the same as, aargh, “back in the day,” but the archetypes of hyperborean black metal are still hugely influential.

You say that maintaining boundaries is a key function of subcultures. Why is this?

This questions brings me back to Kenneth Burke’s idea that identification is an act of negation. By identifying as one thing, we negate the other. By saying what we are, we are also necessarily saying what we are not. To have an insider group, you must also have an externalized other. Maintaining difference (or some might say faux individuality) is a categorical imperative of any subculture.

You also mention that the kind of acts that succeed in a subculture environment are those which set the individual apart from the herd, and include criticism of the subculture itself. Wouldn’t that make a subculture self-consuming? Are any of them post-individualist?

Subcultures are kind of things that cannot be — or at least they become things that cannot be as they balkanize. This is to say that yes, subcultures are in a way self-consuming and/or self-negating. Such subcultural self-negation is especially prevalent in rock music subcultures. For example, there are scads of scrawny male musicians with that dyed black comb-over haircut who play guitar-driven, post-pop/punk songs about longing and heartbreak and insist that they are “not emo,” when they are exactly that.

More often than not, music subcultures that purport to be individualistic are in fact post-individualistic in that the act of joining the subculture actually negates one’s individuality in a process of conforming to the norms of expression, behavior and self-presentation of that enclave.
And then there’s the black metal bunch, of which some participants claim to be post-individualist. For these folks, black metal negates the “I.” Still, this negation of the “I,” of obliterating Joe Smith’s identity in the process of becoming Sardonicus, paradoxically provides a means to set oneself apart — even sometimes operating as a portal to small scale rock stardom. Many black metal musicians decry fame and popularity — unless and until the potential for said popularity becomes a possibility, that is.

You mention another thinker (Butler) who says that black metal is comprised, to an extend unmet by other forms of music, of references to “the enduring, the abiding, and the transcendent.” Why do you think black metal values these things? Can you think of any other philosophies or belief systems that value similar ideals?

When I was a kid, KISS was my favorite band. After one of their shows, I was talking about the experience with one of my friends. He was saying that a KISS concert was like a religious revival in that it was a cathartic, theatrical experience where a group of people worked themselves into a collective frenzy, led by a charismatic leader. That was a pretty perceptive analysis for a 12 year old. It blew my mind at the time, but I knew it was true.

While black metal (as Butler contends) indeed references “the enduring, the abiding, and the transcendent” most overtly, I think it is a bit of a stretch to say that black metal is in fact more spiritually transformative than other genres. I’m sure that fans of jazz, classical music and techno, for example, would all tell you that their preferred form of music operates as a portal to other realms of consciousness — much in the same way that black metal (or football, for that matter) does for its adherents. Any form of music, any form of ritual, surely, offers an entrée into the realm of the ecstatic — for someone.

In this way, all music (black metal included) operates as a portal to the numen, the ur-mind. I daresay that all philosophies or belief systems value similar ideals. They just have different ways of getting there. Loud music is my way of getting there.

In your paper Pure Fucking Armageddon, you repeatedly refer to the black metaller as the “sin eater, a pariah who finds spiritual illumination through the excess for which he is damned.” Do you see a parallel in this to the writings of William Blake, who notably said, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Is there some reason that all us post-moderns are trying to break through mundanity, trying to get back to the real underneath the surreal “real,” as if we trusted the “subtext” more than the “text” in our modern existence?

I’ve heard that Blake quote several times, but I’ve never actually read his work.

I also find the use of the term “real” somewhat problematic here — mainly because I’m intimidated by “real” in a Lacanian sense. I could keep reading Lacan for the rest of my life and never be exactly sure that I got it.

Anyway, I think that all forms of ritual and creative expression have always sought to break through the mundane to some degree. Baudrillard, Bakhtin, Huxley, Nietzsche and Marcuse (among countless others) have theorized this forever.

So, in a postmodern sense, one could capably argue that genres such as black metal seek to shatter the hyperreal (see Baudrillard) in an attempt to “get real,” as it were. And what could be more “real,” more shattering, more pre-cognitive, more pre and post symbolic than death itself?

In Doin’ it for the Dudes, you define heavy metal as being centered around “power.” What is this power, and why is heavy metal obsessed with it? How does this correspond to heavy metal’s fascination with all things dark and evil?

There is nothing about heavy metal that isn’t contradictory in some way, it seems. There is a lot about heavy metal that I’m uncomfortable with. There is a lot about heavy metal that is downright dumb. But the wrongness and the dumbness of heavy metal is, for me, part of its allure.

There are few, if any subtleties in heavy metal. The “power” of heavy metal is blunt force. The shows are as loud and physically punishing as possible for fans and performers alike. A metal show is something to be endured as much (or more) than enjoyed. Lyrically, metal is about war, the occult, torture, dismemberment, totalitarianism and death.

Ultimately, heavy metal is masculine power, performed by and for males.

You write about how heavy metal is hypermasculinized, yet doesn’t challenge conventional genre roles. Do you see a parallel between those two?

I’m not sure I understand this question. Why would hypermasculinity challenge conventional masculinity? I see hypermasculinity as the amplification of conventional (hegemonic, heterosexist) masculinity.

What I have found through my work is that the performative (hyper)masculinity of heavy metal bolsters the hegemonic masculinity of the culture at large in a way that, nevertheless, is not empowering for heavy metal males in an extra-subcultural sense. Heavy metal masculinity is double-edged masculinity.

Heavy metal links the performativity of masculinity with the performativity of working classness. This is to say that heavy metal males, quite often from middle or upper-class backgrounds, enact archetypes of working class masculinity. These symbolic enactments of working class masculinity by metalhead males function to render a disempowered heavy metal male subject. In other words, by participating in a proud pariah subculture that is considered by many to be “white trash” or “low” culture, heavy metal males become “white trash” or “low” culture.

Of course, it would be wrong to paint the heavy metal experience for males in a single, broad stroke. Heavy metal males also experience their subcultural participation as empowerment. They don’t care what society at large thinks of them. And if they experience participation in metal subculture as empowerment, then, for them it is empowerment. After all, however we experience something is, for us, reality.

By enacting a mutated, caveman-style masculinity that is so over the top it’s almost satirical, heavy metal males support hegemonic masculinity — which is a hierarchy of males in a heterosexist hierarchy. The male power exerted in heavy metal’s male hierarchy does not translate as power in the masculinist hierarchies of the greater culture, however. You’ll rarely see heavy metal males becoming senators or corporate CEOs.

So, in a nutshell I’m saying that heavy metal dudes, in the process of becoming heavy metal dudes, join an outsider enclave and are relegated to the fringes of society. And they celebrate this. They don’t care what people think about them, their music and their subculture.

What have been the consequences of your heavy metal research? Has it led to you being thrown out of fancy restaurants and ostracized by your peers? Or are people opening up to this art form?

I rarely go to fancy restaurants and have yet to have been thrown out of one for my metal scholarship.

That said, I do sometimes get the impression that some (by no means all) of my peers in academia think that heavy metal is not something that is really valid and that, in turn, metal studies is not a valid pursuit, either. Some folks think the academic study of metal is about as worthwhile as the academic study of professional wrestling, for example. (There are many parallels between metal and professional wrestling, by the way. And I think professional wrestling is a worthy topic for academic study as well.) I’m guessing this all somehow comes back to the distinction of “high” and “low” art.

If metal became acceptable for the mainstream, that would mean the genre had been rendered toothless. If metal didn’t offend somebody, well, it wouldn’t be metal anymore. Metal (and therefore metal studies) will probably remain to a degree relegated to the low art ghetto, and that’s just fine.

Where has your research taken you since the two papers, Pure Fucking Armageddon and Doin’ it for the Dudes, that launched your career as a heavy metal academic?

As you know, academic publishing is a painfully slow process. I submitted a couple of articles based on chapters of Doing it for The Dudes to academic journals and am waiting for the reviews. I expect that I will have at least one metal studies article published this year. I am attending the Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience conference in Puerto Rico this spring. I hope to make some important contacts at that event.

I don’t limit my research work to metal studies, however. All of my work somehow merges cultural studies and critical theory traditions to examine the interplay of gender, race, class and sexuality in constructed group identities. I have written an article examining the evolution of the term “queer” using Ernesto Laclau’s logic of equivalence that will be published this October. It’s a provocative piece, I think. I’m proud of that one and looking forward to seeing how that is received.

My metal studies work would be useful for anyone studying how gender is enacted as a collective identity. Likewise, my gender studies work might be useful for someone who is studying metal.

What do you think a study of heavy metal has to offer the wider society around us?

Studying heavy metal allows scholars the opportunity to examine the interconnectedness of (here we go again) gender, race, class and sexuality in a particular art form/subculture. So the study of heavy metal offers clues — on a micro level — as to how gender, race, class, sexuality and (yes) power are deployed in the whole of society.

If you are an academic with related interests to Mr. Sewell’s, he welcomes communications via email at johns@westga.edu.

Interview: Zloslut

February 10, 2014 –

zloslut_serbia

We reviewed Zloslut in our latest Oration of Disorder reviews. Response was good, and so we wrote to the band and asked if they’d do an interview. Hunter of Zloslut was good enough to respond and create this interview.

What does “Zloslut” mean? Why did you choose this name?

Zloslut is a Serbian word that means “The one who feels evil coming”; the translation in English is “Ominous.” This word simply best describes our music, lyrics and state of mind.

When did Zloslut form? Did you face any opposition from the society
around you?

Zloslut made its debut during 2010 in Serbia as a one man band; last year we turned into a real band. No, we did not face any opposition with society, except humanity in general.

What makes the members of Zloslut choose to play black metal music? Wouldn’t you rather make post-metal and sell lots of albums?

We didn’t chose what we are going to play, and create… We just wanted to play music that best fits our ideas. And it is black metal.

Selling a lot of albums is not my purpose. If it would be, then yeah, I would play post metal, haha.

How many releases do you have so far? Can you tell us what is different about Zloslutni Horizont – Donosilac Prokletstva, Ocaja I Smrti?

From our inception through the present day we have made a solid discography, including a demo, split, EP, compilation, an album and several singles.

The different thing about Zloslutni Horizont – Donosilac Prokletstva, Ocaja I Smrti is that it is simple; it’s our zenith. We have advanced ideologically and also musically.

Is this latest album a concept album? If so, what’s it about?

Yes, it is a conceptual album… The strangest thing is that I don’t like conceptual stories… But it turned like that from itself.

The main pillar of the album is death and its philosophies, the second is misanthropy and its spiritual effect, and the last one is more like a question about nothingness.

Where can people in the US and the rest of Europe hear this album? Are there places in EU and US where they can buy Zloslut albums?

Since people today are more and more ignoring phisical releases, I decided to upload the whole album on YouTube, and several tracks on bandcamp and myspace. All of our releases are of course available physically, and can be purchased on our official website.

There are several labels and distros that hold some of our releases, but it’s been a while since i was in contact with them. Currently I am working with distros all over the globe, and in the months to come you can expect to see Zloslut releases in the lists. Until then you can order from me.

You sing in your native language. Why did you choose to do this?

I think that every band should sing on their native language.

But you know, it also depends on the ideology… Some texts are better fitting in English.

I personally didn’t choose that. I have some texts from my demo that are in English and also in French.

Some of my new tracks that will appear in the future are not all in Serbian.

How do you define black metal?

For me black metal is surely not to be close-minded as many of them today are, especially the new trend of Watain wannabe.

Personally, I am a very open minded person when it comes to music, books and so on…

We all know that religious people are close-minded, stopped from following their heart… Because of what? It’s not the question now.

We also all know that in the beginning of black metal, it was an opposition to all kind of religion, political direction etc…

So, to come to the point, black metal is not stopped from following the heart, black metal was always open minded, even when there is something that doesn’t fit its inner direction.

What is being open minded? Certainly not to like and support at once whatever you see, hear and feel… But its to consider what you don’t know or see the first time, analysed it, and then you know what is your personal definition on that subject.

I am not selling education about black metal, but only what I can say… Black metal has been dead for some time now… We might play it, but it’s only a massive tribute to that cult. Maybe one day it will be resurrected, but that I can’t tell you.

What is the process of songwriting in Zloslut? Do you start with an idea, or just play and see what happens? Or something in between?

I don’t have a special way of working. Sometimes I can take a guitar at a party, play it, and accidentally I come to an interesting riff, melody…
And when I make a song, I assemble them, piece by piece, just like puzzles… Until I come to something that may reflect to a song.

What’s next for you — will you tour, release more music, or change style?

2014 will surely be a year of concerts… We have been confirmed so far only in Serbia, but we are still persistent to cross the border and play some European dates. (Promoters get in touch!)

When it comes to releases, we have finished 95% of the second album. When this is going to be recorded/released, is still far away in my mind, maybe middle of 2015… We are also working on a split release where we will contribute with one completely new song. I can’t tell more for now, since we can never see our next obstacle.

Interview with MM of Emit/Hammemit

November 13, 2013 –

mm-emit-hammemitSome years have passed since Emit was first featured in these pages, but the UK dark ambient/noise/black metal-influenced project returns in the coming year with the newest edition of its most recent work.

MM, the creator of Emit and Hammemit, took the time to answer a few of our questions. Not only is he an underground musician, but he is also a zine publisher, having produced three issues of the Anti-Art Manifesto zine during the later years of underground black metal.

Emit claims influence from a number of sources, including its constitutent genres of black metal, dark ambient, electro-acoustic music and noise. However, there are extra-musical influences as well, such as a rumored connection to the Order of Nine Angles and other mystical groups.

As metal seeks new influences and directions in which it can go without losing its essential metal-ness, it makes sense to observe how others are navigating paths through the chaos. Thus we are very proud to present an interview with MM of Emit/Hammemit.

So… Emit’s back. What made you decide to resurrect this project?

Typically, Emit resurrected itself because it began to irritatingly manifest unbidden within recording sessions for Hammemit. Rather than contaminate the pure spring waters of my youngest son with the angry attentions of the estranged eldest, something had to be done with it. They are of the same blood, but are of different temperaments. I now create music as Dr. Jekyll might.

What have you been doing in the intervening years between Emit’s cessation and resurrection? Do you view these as similar activities in spirit, even if not in sound?

emit-logo

Well, there is Hammemit. To inaccurately quote myself from an unpublished interview: in varying shades of subtly dark sound I have raised again to their former use and gestalt such structures of worship and diligent study as may currently be found ruined or in state of repair within a certain radius of my guitar, in spectral form. These existing in an ancient realm quite recently known as England that I understand from books and hearsay actually once existed and is become resurrect via such musics as mine own. It is the spirit of a dead realm I still sadly bear living memory to.

Of course they are similar in spirit as I speak with one voice, searching for the ultimate expression, faltering with words yet more fluent in music to express the mysteries I am bound to darkly perceive yet struggle to grasp since earliest memory.

What motivates you to make music? Is there a philosophy to your life?

The motivation is a sudden urgent and painful desire to attempt a capturing of the essence of mysterious elements of existence, because mere words fail me as already explained. Music fails me too, but comes closer to describing that experienced than any other medium I might think of using for such means.

My most fervent hope is to capture perfectly, like ancient insect in amber, this unexplainable inexplicable. I perhaps came closest to doing so with a Hammemit piece called “The Trod of the Darklie Faye,” but yet still remains so distant from the core of the thing.

If there is a philosophy to my life it would surely be the cause of many a smile in the Greek underworld, in the unlikely event they bothered to peer up from their dice games to take notice.

Your CD is coming out on Crucial Blast Records in 2014. Can you tell us what the new Emit will be like? What’s the title?

It has already been available on cassette from a label called Glorious North, originally a demo. However, such is its apparent accomplishment that it deserves releasing again with full album status, expanded tastefully where necessary (I mean no bonus tracks).

mm-ikon-777-emitThe title is not quite borrowed from a compendium of M.R. James short stories, Spectre Music of an Antiquary. The cover (for the CD) is a photographically recorded arrangement of what “might” be called necrotic artifacts, of varying degrees of relevance to the music in question. Items with history and spectres of their own tied to them. In any case, not just some accidental collection of random rubbish as can often be seen elsewhere on album covers belonging to profane Public House crawling musicians with time and nothing else to kill.

It is musically comprised of bio-mechanically haunted vignettes, with a subtle 1980s film soundtrack aftertaste.

How do you think the metal community has changed between the last Emit and the next?

My connection to and interaction with any kind of music community or movement was always minimal. This not being by choice and I sometimes in the past regretted that fact. However I realise now in the light of maturity I was happier that way. I remain a writer of letters (and emails), mostly to people I have known a long while. Most of these people, if not all, bear the same opinion as myself, namely that there is little that such a community can offer people like us and increasingly so. The majority of those comprising these communities have no spirit or panache and wish for acceptance.

What’s next for Emit, and for you as a musician, after this album? Tour? More recordings?

A tour is unlikely to say the least. But some more live examples should be made where possible. More recordings are not out of the question, but only if there be a violent urge to do so. I never record anything for the sake of making a “new” recording. Especially as everything I have ever committed to tape (or .WAV file nowadays) has already been given birth in some form or other many hundred years previous. Even if it took the shape of a church or priest hole rather than unpopular song.

Interview: Scalpel

October 1, 2013 –

scalpel-sorrow_and_skinWhen we encountered Boston band Scalpel, it was a breath of fresh air. While some of the frenetic post-’core deathgrind influences were present, this band made it clear through their songwriting that their hearts were in the older traditions of the underground.

In fact, their sound resembles a cross between a Unique Leader West Coast-style blasting percussive death metal band, and an East Coast outfit, like some of the Suffocation material from their live album era before they fully modernized. Scalpel bash out the intricate textural descents of percussive death metal on Sorrow and Skin, their opus coming out this month.

We were able to snag the band for a few questions and enjoyed their laconic but incisive answers.

How did Scalpel form, and how did your style evolve after that point?

Scalpel formed when Taylor Brennan and Manny Egbert met each other at guitar summer camp like good little childs. We started as a goregrind band with lots of Carcass style riffs before developing a more technical and brutal sound.

What would you identify as your influences, musically and in literature, film and non-fiction writing?

Musically, our influences are bands like Creedence Clearwater, Black Sabbath, Morbid Angel, Suffocation and Carcass. We all enjoy films such as Ip Man, Rambo, The Reanimator, and Clockwork Orange. We also love authors such as J.R.R Tolkien, Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson.

Your style seems to approximate a mixture of East Coast and West Coast death metal influences. Are you the crest of a new wave?

Yes, although we do not try to align ourselves with any other contemporary death metal bands, we do feel that we have a unique sound.

Where did you record Sorrow and Skin?

Sorrow and Skin was recorded at Q Division Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts. No metronomes were used in the recording of the album in order to produce a more organic sound.

To what degree do you take influence from “modern” styles of metal, specifically the post-2000 ones?

Mostly, the extremely quick tempos and incessant blast beats. Other than that, we stick to our roots.

Where do you hold on to older styles, and why?

Slam riffs, fuzzy production, and shrieking bluesy guitar solos are all elements reminiscent of older styles. We think it is better to draw influence from older groups and expand upon the foundations of death metal than to keep up with modern standards.

Will you be gracing us with your presence with a tour?

Yes, we hope to tour Europe in the future. We look forward to bringing our brand of Death Metal to a new audience as well as making friends in new places.

How do you compose these songs?

The songwriting process sets in much like an attack of diarrhea; an idea will hit Manny or Taylor, and it goes from there. The song starts usually in the form of death metal scatting (fa na na flum flum) and we finish each other’s song ideas and hash out the rest at practice.

What, in your view, is the “soul” of death metal?

Death metal serves the purpose of being a lens into the darkest side of humanity, and making light of the most disturbing things that humans can achieve. Without the outlet of Death Metal, the world would seem deceivingly positive.

Interview: Varg Vikernes

May 26, 2013 –

varg_vikernes-sol_austan_mani_vestanAmong metal’s legions are many for whom society is not a fit. Society tries to find rules to make everyone get along; metalheads, who “think outside of the box,” tend to look toward what they see as right, not socially compatible. As a result there are many in metal who stand above the crowd and are impossibly iconic for their unique worldviews. One such man is Burzum’s Varg Vikernes.

After creating in the course of four early albums an impressive body of art that essentially ended black metal as it was by raising the bar beyond what others could easily participate in, Vikernes was imprisoned for sixteen years for his alleged role in church arson and murder. During the time he was in prison, he put out two more impressive keyboard-based albums and several books’ worth of writings before falling silent around the turn of the millennium.

Upon his release, he didn’t slack off, either, but pushed out two new albums influenced by the rising drone-NSBM trend from Eastern Europe, and has released a film, is currently working on a role-playing game, and continues to produce numerous writings and a new theory of history. Since he is an object of interest as well as such a strong personality that he cannot escape notice, he has continued to use interviews and other public talking points to advance his ideas.

Whether we agree or disagree with the man, it’s hard to argue that his back catalog is anything but on the whole impressive, or that he isn’t articulate and forceful about his beliefs. Recently, he released his first post-prison ambient album, Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, which in the words of our review is a “vivid journey from start to finish…Vikernes has returned, and has found his natural voice.”

Deathmetal.org was fortunate to catch Mr. Vikernes in a rare un-busy moment between his many projects, where he answered a few of our questions.

With Sôl austan, Mâni vestan you have left metal behind, and yet this work has as much identifiable personality as your earliest works. What do you think makes this style so adapted to where you are now, and what you want to express?

This type of music has always been a part of Burzum, from the very first album and all the way to Umskiptar, so I think those who appreciated the old non-metal music will perfectly well be able to appreciate this non-metal music as well. In a sense I keep making music in the same style, only I have left out the metal parts.

Can you tell us a little bit about the influences on this album? Were these influences instrumental to achieving this new sound?

I know where you want to go, but the truth is that I didn’t listen to any other music whilst making this whatsoever; I didn’t seek inspiration in any other music and I did not even think of any particular music whilst making this. However, upon completion I did think it reminded me a bit of a calm version of Tangerine Dream.

This album is made for the ForeBears film, and I guess it is correct to say that I was inspired by the concept of that film.

In your writing on Thulean Perspective called “Shadows of the Mind,” you mention how black metal can be a gateway to the Divine Light. What is the Divine Light?

That question is best answered with a link.

Your work seems to have been guided since its earliest forms by a sense of the “poetry” of existence, and a purpose to the human experience, while others were busy disclaiming this. What shaped your thoughts in this regard?

I think it is simply due to the fact that I knew instinctively that it was better before. I missed what once was. I longed for the past that I felt was better. I dreamt of things that had been but were no longer.

After Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, where do you see yourself going artistically? Will you continue to make albums in this ambient style, or re-invent music in another form?

I can dream of the past, but I never make artistic plans for the future. I just follow where my spirits takes me, so to speak.

What is the purpose of art? What habits or activities do you find most crucial to the spirit that drives your art?

It’s the spirit of the past trying to break free and influence the world we live in today. That’s the purpose and driving force too.

What do you think black metal had to contribute? Do you think your earlier aggressive work, and your newer more mellow work, come from the same place?

They do, and I think black metal is just a expression and (for fans) appreciation of the despair most men feel from living in a world that is not built for them. When you grow up, so to speak, or perhaps just grow wiser (many young men are wise too), you move on and instead of whining about the world we live in you do something about it instead. Black metal has woken up many good anti-Jewish Pagan Europeans and has thus lead them on the right course.

The lyrics to “Dunkelheit” suggest a natural mysticism to your work. Do you see this in the ancients as well? Do you think this knowledge changes people in such a way that they cannot be part of modern society? How do you see this as different from the Christian spirituality?

Christian spirituality? They have none.

I think the natural mysticism will wake up Europeans; the Pagan spirit is like embers waiting under the ashes. All it needs is some dry wood and it will turn into a flaming fire again, burning, warming and lighting up. Natural mysticism is, amongst other things, that dry wood.

Do you think history is cyclic, meaning that similar events lead to similar outcomes and thus, people eventually return to the same eternal truths? What do you imagine those would be? Is there a way to express such truths in art?

Yes, similar events lead to similar outcomes, and truth prevails in the end, always, so when they are blurred, distorted, hidden or spat upon they will always return to glory. There is no unversal truth in this context, becuase man is not universal, just like animals are not. I am part of the European species, and the eternal truth to us is Honour, and we will return to that for sure.

Is there a way to express such truths in art?

Yes, but it might not be understood by all.

Interview: Supuration

April 13, 2013 –
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supuration-cube_3During the early 1990s, death metal was subject to criticism because people feared it. They would claim that the bands couldn’t play, or didn’t know their scales, or were otherwise incompetent.

One of the first bands to thwart this vision was France’s Supuration, a former grindcore/death metal band who gradually modified their style as they grew more proficient with their instruments. The result was a mixture of rock, pop, death metal and progressive music.

The Cube, Supuration‘s most famous work, introduced sci-fi concept album planning into the fertile mix of metal and progressive rock. Over the last 20 years, the fame of this legendary album has only increased as more people discover it and are able to understand it, now that an intervening two decades of progressive metal have made it easier.

This year, Supuration launched Cube 3, their follow-up to the original album and a means of uniting the storyline of intervening albums. We were fortunate to get to talk to Ludovic Loez, guitarist with this groundbreaking band.

You started out as a death metal or grindcore band, and then made the change to a progressive/rock/metal style; what spurred this change? Did your interests change, or did the newer style fit your interests?

After the recording of The Cube album and Still in the Sphere MCD, we decided to change our style. We didn’t want to record another The Cube in the same vein; we tried to create a more experimental music, with no limits for us. We like SUPURATION a lot but we thought that a second album in the same veins would not be cool for us, that’s why we created S.U.P.

How important do you think style is in the creation of music? Can someone make the same album in any style, or does the style fit the music? How does this relate to individual songs — does song structure need to fit the song, or is there a way to say the meaning of any song in any song structure?

I think the structure is quite important for a song; we are trying to be original, we all love death metal style in the band, but we also like new wave music and VOIVOD for example. If you listen to our three SUPURATION albums, you’ll find the same structures: each album is linked to each other; for the S.U.P albums, each album is a story, but the structures of these albums are different even if it’s the same way of writing songs for both bands.

You’ve obviously spent a lot of time listening to metal and studying its riff forms, but there’s other elements in there in addition to your own “home grown” outlook and style. You’re probably tired of people asking this, but what are your influences??

As I told you we are into new wave of the 80′s, real gothic music like THE SISTERS OF MERCY, VOIVOD, old PESTILENCE, DEPECHE MODE and sometimes electro music coming from Germany. We are also into original soundtrack, music scores…

Do you think the death metal style easily transitions to progressive rock? What do you see as the similarities between the two? Is progressive rock — most people don’t know that Tony Iommi was briefly in Jethro Tull, or that King Crimson’s first album was an influence on Sabbath — a part of metal, encoded into its DNA?

I think you’re right, in each style of music you can hear a “small” part of metal especially nowadays with the evolution of music in general…The way to the progressive rock is natural I think, except for brutal death bands like SUFFOCATION or CANNIBAL CORPSE and so on, it’s certain that they won’t turn into progressive [music]. It’s a choice, everyone have the choice especially in music.

A compilation of your early works, Back From the Crematory, was released in 2011 and seemed to spur some interest in the early years of the band. What first attracted you to grindcore and death metal?

CARCASS, NAPALM DEATH, OLD. We were quite young at that time and we were into grind core and death metal, when xtreemmusic asked us to put out our first work with ETSICROXE and early SUPURATION, we were really excited. Imagine your old demos and rotten live on a cd more than 20 years after…amazing and exciting…

You split the band into two entities, “Supuration” which was more metal, and “S.U.P.” which was more future pop/rock/progressive. Why did you make the split? Were you able to keep the two separate? How much did they converge, or become similar?

They’re sometimes similar, the voice for example. We created another the band because after the “success” we had with The Cube, we didn’t want to record a “Cube II” the year after. We wanted to create something new with music. The two bands are two different entities, but same members and same songwriter, so both are sometimes similar and different at the same time.

Have you seen interest in Supuration renewing itself recently? Why do you think this is?

I think it’s great!! With the new record company it’s quite easier. We had had a small renewal with the prequel of The Cube called Incubation in 2003. We have good reviews — I think the result is quite correct, that’s a good thing for us…

I have known relatively few albums that attract the kind of devotion that The Cube has. What do you think makes that album stand out, and what do you like about it most?

Its story, its concept, its futurist cover; this album realized in 1993 had a big success in general I can’t explain why…but it’s cool….

You’ve just released Cube 3, which alludes to the original The Cube. Do you think it’s a continuation of what was done on The Cube, a re-envisioning, or an entirely new direction using parts of the same storyline?

Cube3 is dealing with the end of the story [from] The Cube. Between these albums we recorded Incubation which is a prequel to The Cube, I mean the story before. If you want to hear the whole story you have to listen to Incubation first the reasons of the suicide of the young girl, then The Cube with the journey of the tormented soul throughout strange places and Cube3 which deals with the reincarnation of the soul of The Cube album.

Most of your albums seem to be conceptual, or united around a story or idea. Can you tell us about the storylines in your albums? Was there a consistent story idea through all of your works?

I would say, in most of our stories in our albums, the relation between the mother and is child is reccurent. You’ve got this relation in the whole story of The Cube, in “Anomaly” (S.U.P, science fiction dealing futurist machines that kills babies linked to a overpopulation in the future), “Room Seven” (S.U.P, story dealing with an autistic child and his mother), “Chronophobia” (S.U.P, twins separated at birth, mother killed in a carcrash), “Angelus” (S.U.P, quite different, dealing with the lost of faith in god and extraterrestrial life after death), “Imago” (S.U.P, also different, dealing with a futurist drug that makes a self regeneration after a serious disease or cancer, but quite dangerous if you take it twice) and “Hegemony” (S.U.P, dealing with a neovocyt, a new vegetal/human being who is trying to run away with the head of his mother throughout a searing desert somewhere in time on another planet).

Nothing sounds like Supuration — nothing! However, if I had to pick the closest, I’d point toward the first albums from Obliveon and Dead Brain Cells (DBC), and maybe mention some of the middle period Voivod material (Dimension Hatross). Do you find these bands similar? Is it odd, or perfectly rational, that they would have a similar sound to you? Does the fact that all of you are from French-speaking areas have anything to do with it?

I only know VOIVOD, I do not know DBC or OBLIVEON, I’m sorry. I don’t think we are similar, maybe we have the same way of seeing things, the same way of creating the music. You must be right — I trust you when you say that but…I don’t know if the French-speaking have anything to do with it…maybe….I don’t know maybe a similar culture somewhere…

Do you think metal’s riff style, which uses moveable chords like power chords and as a result ends up with longer phrases more like classical melodies or complex riff from prog rock, determines how you compose metal songs? Do you think this makes metal more or less like regular rock? Was it hard for you to integrate the two styles in your music?

You know, when you are used to playing in a way, it seems to be normal for you to play that way. I mean during these years metal music has changed a lot, except for some great metal bands that are staying in their metal style since the very beginning and that’s great too… There’s so many different styles in metal music, it’s quite difficult to answer this question, as far as we are concerned, we are writing songs normally, we’re trying to be original and not to disappoint our fans who are very important for us.

Some of your “S.U.P.” material, especially Room Seven, seemed to converge on a progressive alternative rock style that others were trying to achieve at the time. The use of non-standard chords, dissonance and off-time constructions in alternative rock appeared for example on Dweezil Zappa’s “Shampoo Horn” and even made it into punk with powerviolence and post-hardcore. What do you think influenced bands to move progressive in the late 1990s? What were they seeking to express, or change in the world? Did you see this as a confirmation of your direction (if you were aware of it)?

We’re not aware of it, sorry….I guess they tried to change some things in the world of music, I suppose…Every decade a new style is created in metal or death metal, it’s a kind of circle you know. We’re not into this kind of philosophy; we are trying to do our best for people who like our stuff and for our fans. I only know Dweezil Zappa because I was told that he was a very good guitarist, that’s it….

What’s coming up next for Supuration? Will you tour and/or continue releasing music? “Cube 3″ seems a bit of a progression from your older material; what’s your next metamorphosis?

We’ll play some shows for Cube3, not real tour, I mean festivals, concerts, during one or two years and meanwhile I’ll star to write the new S.U.P album, we’ll see…. Thanks for the interview

Ludovic LOEZ
for SUPURATION/S.U.P
April 2013