Interview: Frank Stöver of Voices from the Darkside (2015)


Many of you know Frank Stöver from his days editing the classic death metal fanzine Voices from the Darkside, but many more have come to know him through his website of the same time. Having read his material for years, this writer jumped on the chance to ask him a few questions about what he does and how he keeps putting out high-quality material after all these years…

What do you look for in a metal band that makes them appealing to you? How important is imagery, packaging and production?

First and foremost it’s of course the music that I will have to enjoy, but to me that sometimes goes hand in hand with the band’s imagery or packaging as well. I often experience that bands that are really dedicated to what they’re doing come up with a better visual side as well, because they really know how they would like to present themselves. But a band with a shitty xeroxed cover and a poor looking logo can of course also be killer musically.

Since I’ve been involved in the tape-trading era myself I’m still used to poor sounding rehearsal- and live-tapes, so production definitely isn’t that important in the first place to discover great bands. Just remember the early Mantas/Death recordings… But then again killer songs could be even more killer with a fitting and crushing production of course, as long as the production really fits the band.

When you prepare to interview a band, how do you prepare? How much of this is research? How much of it is listening to their demos/albums?

Since I only interview bands that I personally really like it’s almost exclusively research. I do read a lot of reviews and other interviews, check out their discography, member changes etc. I ask questions that I personally would like to get answers for and hope that the readers find that of interest as well.

In one of your past interviews, you mention a zine as being “narrowminded” in a positive way. Is it important to be narrow-minded? Or is that a term for being open-minded and then making your mind up? Does death metal risk infiltration by imitators, poseurs, fakers, etc.?

Good question… I wouldn’t say it’s important, it’s just a matter of your personal tastes. Even though I’m musically totally open-minded, I still prefer zines that stick to certain styles exclusively. Otherwise I could also pick up one of the colored major magazines that are being sold at shops and supermarkets every month. Same with music itself. I have a lot of respect for bands that try to break boundaries by mixing new elements into established styles.

I ask questions that I personally would like to get answers for and hope that the readers find that of interest as well.

But when I’m in the mood for some brutal Death Metal, I don’t wanna hear that combined with clean vocals, a funky bass or whatever. Considering the fact that there’s constantly so much new music out, it also makes it a bit easier to select releases / bands for a zine. You gotta draw a line somewhere, otherwise you would have to feature 4251166898089090 and more releases every month.

You were manager for Kreator and Destruction back in the day. Why do you think Germany led the world in their kind of speed/death hybrid, but was less participatory in death metal as a complete genre?

Well, I just helped out Kreator a little bit with merchandise and fan club activities, I never managed them… But to answer your actual question: I can only guess. Maybe it’s because all the younger bands in Germany at the time simply looked up to the bands that had already become bigger (Destruction, Sodom, Kreator, etc.) and felt musically inspired by them. And since all of them are rooted in thrash metal, it probably resulted in a pretty healthy thrash scene. If Morgoth would’ve been one of our first extreme bands in those days maybe everything would’ve developed in a different direction, who knows…

Why do you think 1980s bands were so varied, and bands now sound more similar? Is the “market” flooded? How can metal recover from this? Or is it just harder to come up with something new, because everything has “been done”? Or is style less important, and content what drives uniqueness in bands?

I think you pretty much answered this yourself already. The number of bands simply exploded over the years, and almost everything has already been done in one way or another, so there’s not much room left anymore for fresh, unique bands that still deliver brutal music.

Back in the day everything was still fresh and new, so whenever a new band appeared on the scene, it still sounded a little different to the already more established names. I think something like that is almost impossible nowadays. I hardly find enough time to listen to all the new releases I receive every week, so I’m glad that I don’t have to write music in a band that tries to make it.

Why did you switch from print to internet-only distribution of your writings? Are you able to reach the same audience? Did you gain more readers? What are the advantages from print that you miss, and what does online do better?

That’s an easy one: lack of time and money were the main reasons not to continue on with the printed version of the zine. The advantages are obvious: you can easily update a site on a daily base if you like, while a printed zine always takes a lot of time until it’s finished and distributed. It’s easier, because you don’t have to do layouts, ship the finished magazines, deal with printing companies and the postal service and as a result you also safe a lot of money, which you usually spend on postage and printing.

The number of readers has exploded ever since we went online. Our last issue (# 10) was printed in 1,000 copies; with our website we have approximately 2,000 – 2,500 visitors each day nowadays. But of course I miss the print era. I just love the cut and paste type old school layouts… and reading stuff where ever I like is probably the biggest plus (reading in front of a monitor screen is really annoying).

Is it hard to get volunteers to work with? Is apathy a problem in the metal community?

Never really had any problems in that department at all. But maybe it’s that easy because Voices From The Darkside is already an established name that people are aware of and respect. So, whoever I work with (or have worked with in the past) is first of all a fan of the music and the zine. I guess that makes it a lot easier.

How did fanzines help shape the metal underground? Did this change from your days in Horror Infernal to when you started Voices from the Darkside in 1993? Do you think fanzines played a role in shaping what people liked, and made some bands into “favorites”? If so, was this good or bad?

Without fanzines there probably would be no underground, at least not in the way we know it. I don’t think it changed in any way. Fanzines have been around for ages and I received some of them already back when I started out in the early 80s. I personally found out about a lot of amazing bands through fanzines, flyers and tape-trading.

If a band is honest in what they do and they don’t sell out or change in order to reach a bigger audience, they deserve to get noticed by bigger crowds for sure.

I suppose without this great network, I probably wouldn’t have discovered a lot of the bands this early. A good example is Metallica. I got a live show from 1982 on tape very early on, even before I got to hear their demos and that made me follow them right from the start, which was really exciting.


Should underground metal stay underground? Is this even possible?

No, I don’t think so. If a band is honest in what they do and they don’t sell out or change in order to reach a bigger audience, they deserve to get noticed by bigger crowds for sure. Of course it’s always a bitter feeling for the fans of day one to see that all of a sudden people like “their” bands, who probably don’t know anything about them, their roots or anything. But that doesn’t mean the newer fans are less dedicated. Some of them often turn into total diehards as well, they just discovered the band later.

The German scene is fascinating to me. From thousands of kilometers away, it looks as if German fans are fans first of heavy metal as a whole, not specialized into death metal, black metal, etc. Does this have some benefits? What about downsides?

Yeah, Germany is really a cool place for metal and all its sub-genres. The scene is very healthy with lots of venues, bands, magazines, etc. That’s probably also one of the reasons why big festivals such as Wacken work out so well. Metal fans are often more open-minded than one might think. They don’t have a problem with having their Terrorizer record next to a Thin Lizzy record in their collection (at least I don’t have). I don’t think that has a downside to it at all.

I wrote about how hacking was a parallel community to underground metal found similarities between the two. Do you think the metal underground had a lot in common with other undergrounds? What made it “underground,” in the first place? Was it only lack of commercial acceptance, or also of social acceptance?

I often compare the metal underground with the early punk movement (before both scenes got commercialized by the industry). This whole DIY mentality with self-organized shows, flyers, cut and paste fanzines etc. most certainly had a big influence on the origin of the metal underground. Also this “fuck off” mentality and trying to rebel against parents, employers or the mainstream is pretty similar. But all this probably makes it scenes on their own. To me being underground means that you’re different to the mainstream in certain aspects and you most certainly have that in various other sub-genres as well.

It seems to me that with the rise of the internet, we have information overload. Meaning that there are too many bands, sites, labels, radio/podcasts, etc. to possibly keep track of. Do you think that zines and some websites can be helpful in reducing this overload? Is that a positive goal? Can websites achieve the same effect that zines did?

I totally agree… and to be perfectly honest with you: I really hate this overkill! I’m sick and tired of receiving a shitload of download links for new albums every fuckin’ day. I mean, who’s supposed to listen to all this, not to mention who shall buy all the records? Today there’s probably more labels than we had bands in the 80s and each one of them releases as many records as possible. From old poor sounding rehearsal tapes, to compilations, split releases, re-releases, EPs, live albums, full lengths etc.

Today there’s probably more labels than we had bands in the 80s and each one of them releases as many records as possible.

The industry always mentions that record sales are going down, but at the same time they are releasing more albums than ever before. Websites such as ours can indeed be helpful by being more selective in what they review and feature in general. And that leads us back to the “narrow-minded” question: if we would be less narrow-minded, Voices From The Darkside would quickly turn into a fulltime job for sure. But luckily most people still care about quality. So, no matter what it is: a record, a band, a label or even a website — if it’s of poor quality people will sooner or later search for something better. Since our website is already online for almost 15 years by now with a steady growing number of visitors, I suppose we’re doing something right.

You have mentioned in several past interviews that you do not collect rare discs, but are interested in having the complete recordings. Do you think the “collector’s mentality” was good for metal? Why do you avoid it, or is this just a practical/personal decision?

I think this “collector’s mentality” opened a lot of doors for the just mentioned release overkill. Many metal fans tend to buy their favorite records in every fuckin’ re-release format there is. If a label re-releases a record with only one single bonus track or a different packaging some diehards most certainly will spend their hard earned money on it again, no matter how often they already have it in their collection. I don’t like that, but somehow I’m infected by that as well.

If I like a band, I try to get their entire material in one way or another. But I don’t keep a record in various formats then. I replace the older version with the newer expanded edition. That’s equally stupid (if not more), but at least I don’t have to spend a shitload of many for rare first press releases, hahaha.

What are your plans for the future with Voices from the Darkside? Do you have any other projects brewing? Ever think of writing a book (of new text, not compilation of the older zines)? If people like your work, how should they stay updated on what you do?

The website already keeps me extremely busy since I take care of all the daily updates myself. Every single review and interview that ends up on the site is being formatted, proof-read etc. by yours truly. And I also compile all the news, tour dates and so on. All that takes a lot of time every single day, so no – I don’t have any other projects in the pipeline at the moment, I’m afraid. All I can offer at the moment can be found at Thanks a lot Brett, for this highly interesting interview and your support! All the best!

Codex Obscurum #8 available for pre-order


Codex Obscurum arose in the 2010s to revive the utility and flavor of metal zines from the 1980s, but doing so in an internet age, chose to focus on selectivity over attempting to compete with the flood of raw (and mostly wrong) information. Now this zine is on its eighth issue and has featured most of the classic and new bands of stature which are active in the underground.

The eighth issue promises to have many new delights for the metal reader. According to the zine, this issue features:

  • The art of NecroMogarip
  • Blood Red Throne
  • Noisem
  • Zemial
  • Castrator
  • Blizzard
  • Morgengrau
  • Rawhide
  • PanzerBastard
  • The 3rd Attempt
  • Skelethal
  • Impenitent Thief
  • …and many more…

You can order your copy — they are now shipping — at the following location for $3 plus shipping:

Codex Obscurum: a retrospective


From its beginnings as an unsteady homage to the zines of years past to its current role as commentator and gatekeeper of quality underground metal, Codex Obscurum zine has grown and refined its approach over the past five years. Today the editors released a photograph of issues one through eight in all their glory, and we thought we would share it with you.

Under the Sign of the Lone Star announces inaugural issue


As the internet dies a slow death from both information overload and undue concentration (and thus agenda enforced) in sites like Wikipedia and Metal-Archives, many metalheads are returning to zines. Zine editors choose what to focus on and tend to specialize in certain levels of quality and types of metal, so if you find one you like, it becomes a combination learning experience and shopping guide.

Noticing a void of information on Texas specifically, JH (his lawyers insist that no identifying details are used) has started the process of bringing Under the Sign of the Lone Star to print. As part of the new wave of underground metal zines, this Texas-centric zine will focus on that which the mainstream media and internet chatter alike ignore.

We were lucky enough to get a few minutes with JH as he was loading suspiciously heavy blue barrels into a panel truck outside Lubbock…

When did this idea hit you, and what was your intent? What sorts of zines do you admire?

I’ve written on-and-off for years, and about two years ago I had the idea to put my thoughts to print instead of in a digital medium. Life got in the way and since I didn’t have any real focus other than “bands I liked”, the idea fell by the wayside. Fast-forward to the tail-end of 2014 and I found myself staring at a magazine rack full of “metal” magazines with, surprise surprise, no actual metal (or at least, with the actual metal de-emphasized in favor of flavor-of-the-month trash). I found myself compelled to write again as a reaction against those publications and began writing the zine as soon as I realized the concept.

I like my zines the way I like my metal demo covers: black-and-white, fairly minimal layout/presentation, and without pulling any punches if that makes sense. Some of my favorite (and most influential) metal releases are underground demos and I feel as the final result of UtSotLS is a printed equivalent of a tape demo (not that I’m comparing it to something as good as “Evil Metal”, of course). Also I’m not a talented writer in the technical sense, but I do feel a passion for putting thoughts to pen. I see it as similar to older releases that lacked by-the-book musicianship but had a near-tangible fire in their recordings.

Zines that get my support: Codex Obscurum, Slaves (#2 has killer interviews from Lust, Amputator, and more), Trident Nation, Chips & Beer, Zombie Danz, and Serpentscope which gets an A+ for original concept. And Slayer was killer, obviously.

What is the topic of the zine, and what will it cover, and will there be enough material?

The topic of the zine is bands from Texas that people should know about. Lots of reviews (including a few live ones), some interviews, and additional content that will hopefully open a few eyes to the metal that rules in this state.

As for whether there will be enough material; that will be for the readers to decide. Personally I prefer to keep things short and to-the-point rather than drag things out longer than necessary. I’d rather read a 20-page zine with interesting content than an 80-page behemoth with maybe four good articles. I’m finalizing the layout at the moment but it will be over thirty pages which works for me.

What is the Texas scene like? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

The Texas metal scene could probably be summed up in three adjectives: loud, aggressive, and hot. Admittedly I would say that it is fairer to split each city into its own scene rather than Texas as a whole for reasons elaborated on below, but just about every city has killer bands in their own right.

Strengths: The bands. That should speak for itself, but also the abundance of shows. There’s always something going on in at least one city (although you may have to drive for a while, see below). Also a lot of awesome bands from other states or countries play here often. Destroying Texas Fest XI with Blood Storm, Nocturnus A.D., Hades Archer, and Force of Darkness is an example of one that will crush.

Weaknesses: The state itself is gigantic. It’s pretty common to find yourself driving for hours to see a show in another city that would be the distance between states up North, or even countries in Europe. Also the summers are pretty brutal. Any time you’re in a venue and the AC is busted it’s borderline unbearable. But it’s always worth it in the end. Live for metal, get heat stroke for metal.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to get involved with metal? Are there other staff?

I’m a mid-twenties bassist who drinks black coffee and plays faster than he should. I am also a native Texan, if anyone cared. I started with Metallica at age 14 and the first “gaze into the abyss” was Slayer. Progressed through classic metal (Sabbath, Motorhead), then thrash (Sepultura, Exhorder, Hirax), then death/thrash (Voor, Slaughter (Can.)), then death (Obituary, Morbid Angel), then black (Averse Sefira, Emperor), and so on and so forth (this is a rough timeline and far from in-depth). Started consistently going to local underground shows in 2010 with a Hexlust/Birth A.D. show and haven’t stopped since, tinnitus and neckaches be damned.

No staff other than my girlfriend who drew the cover, provided some layout assistance, and took the photo of myself for the author section. UtSotLS is a personal project at the end of the day and I prefer there to be a consistent voice throughout the whole issue.

Why do you advertise as “anti-clickbait”? What does this mean in your own lexicon?

I wouldn’t necessarily call the above an advertisement since it was just a personal statement on my own Facebook page, but I do see it as a relevant approach. “Clickbait” refers to online publications that post eye-grabbing headlines or articles (often misleading) with the intention of bringing a lot of traffic to their site to make money off advertisement revenue (this doesn’t refer to the DMU obviously, haha). I write out of passion for writing and for the music that means more to me than any worldly possessions, not out of the need to fill my bank account. As a reflection of this, no band solicited a single review and there is not one advertisement in “Under the Sign of the Lone Star”: the content is there because I wanted to write about it, 100%.

The full statement “ANTI-CLICKBAIT RAG” was a tribute to Rok from Sadistik Exekution writing “ANTI-NORWAY SHIT” on his chest ages ago and I always love to cite SadEx (and Bathory, for that matter).

If someone wanted to know what bands/zines from Texas that they MUST know, who would you list?


– Older: Necrovore, Hellpreacher, Blood Spill, Divine Eve, Dolmen, Absu, Averse Sefira, Rigor Mortis, Imprecation, Obeisance, dead horse, D.R.I, Devastation

– Newer: Hod, Hexlust, Birth A.D., Blaspherian, Morbus 666, Spectral Manifest, War Master, The Blood Royale, Church of Disgust (They’re split between TX and Florida, but that’s good enough for me), Funeral Ash, Whore of Bethlehem, Maiestas, Oath of Cruelty (who have members that are now in Morbosidad who get 666% support), Nexul/Hellvetron/Nyogthaeblisz, Termination Force, Skan, Id, Cleric, and Sigil. I’m just going to stop here since I can’t possibly list everyone – read issue #1 for plenty of examples!

– Zines:

Feral Noise was a killer one, as is Underworld Zine which I believe is based out of Houston if I’m not mistaken.

I understand you’re involved with the Metal Enema radio show. What’s that like? Do you consider yourself a ‘metal activist’?

Metalenema is no-holds barred insanity. I’m somewhat amazed that I haven’t been driven mad over my three-year tenure on the show, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. In all seriousness it’s a blast and one of the key ways that I myself find out about newer music from Undertaker’s contributions to our mixes (otherwise I would probably hole up in my cave listening to nothing but the same four Celtic Frost songs over and over again). We are proud to wave the flag of extreme metal over the airwaves and hopefully enlighten listeners to the way of death/black/thrash.

In all honesty I wouldn’t use the term “activist” to describe the way I live since it makes me think of stereotypical naïve teenagers with well-meaning-but-misguided political affiliations, but I do live for this music that burns inside of my soul. I enjoy plenty of other music, but metal is what set me free. Ad Majorem Metallum Gloriam : To the Death.

Many thanks to DMU for the interview! For the interested, a preview of the zine with a few interview scans is available at the link below:

Codex Obscurum – Issue Six


Underground metal zine Codex Obscurum gained an audience for its focus on music of an underground nature without the associated fetishism of image and product obsession that blights most zines no matter how underground. In that sense, it was a regression to the healthier times of the 1990s, when fanzines were fan-oriented instead of label-oriented, and both old and new audiences have delighted in it for five issues.

Contemplating Issue Six of this magazine shows how far it has come and how it has not lost any of the delight in the music that marks a good fanzine. Over the past several issues the focus of the magazine has shifted to interviews and reviews, and this shows in the much wider coverage that Codex Obscurum achieves with Issue Six. More bands see print in this issue and, through greater experience of interviewers, questions cover a wider range. The issue starts with an interview with War Master, whose albums regularly feature in our best-of lists around here. While this interview is short, it provides the vital news that this band is working on a second album and an EP, and talks about touring and general attitude of the band after switching vocalists. After this follows a thoughtful and probing interview with (the New) Mayhem guitarist Teloch, which contains mostly striking revelations about the black metal scene and its relationship to political correctness. For those of us more inclined to avoid newer versions of once-classic bands, this shows insight into the thought process behind the current “scene.” Further interviews with Anatomia, Lantern, Obliteration, Rottrevore, Symptom, Acid Witch, Castle Freak, Impaled Nazarene, Fister, Hecate Enthroned and Ritual Decay. The interviewers in all of these approach the subject with knowledge and tailor their questions to the subject’s personality, which brings out more of the people behind the bands.

One of the bigger changes since the last issue appears in the abundance of reviews that Issue Six has to offer. These take two forms: mid-length descriptive and personalitied reviews, and semi-dismissive Haiku form reviews that often tell more than a few pages of labored, assiduous writing. The descriptive reviews offer a practical assessment of how a metal listener might approach an album in a compact package. Witness the review of Cruxiter Cruxiter:

Cruxiter – S/T (2013 – PrismaticO Records)

Wow, what a surprise this album was. Cruxiter are not a well-known band, as this is their first full-length and they’ve only been around for a couple of years. But it sounds like they’ve been around since the ’80s. In fact, this whole album sounds like it’s from the ’80s. Cruxiter are traditional heavy metal from the wastelands of Texas and will not disappoint one bit. It’s as if early Mercyful Fate had a ménage à trois with Manilla Road and early Iron Maiden, all while listening to ’70s guitar-driven rock. The musicianship on this album is fantastic; each song is a classic metal anthem with soaring vocals and impressive guitar riffs. Miggy Ramirez’s vocals are high-pitched and remain steady throughout — he certainly pulls off the style perfectly. The highlight of the album is “The Devils of Heavy Metal” and is one of the best songs of this style I’ve heard in quite some time. The one thing that may dissuade some listeners (and it’s a shame, at that) is the production of the album. There are no crystal-clear sounds on this album, everything is produced in a way that makes sounds like it was recorded in 1984. It adds to the retro-feel of this album, and is part of what makes this album a great listen. The album is streaming on their bandcamp page, I’d highly recommend you check it out if traditional heavy metal is your thing. Keep an eye out for this band. — James Doyle

Ten pages of reviews of this type help inform the listener on the cutting edge of underground metal, skipping the numu/indie/post gibberish, and then detour into two pages of Haiku form reviews which cut to the core of each album from a listener’s standpoint. While these are more dismissive, oftentimes they utterly nail why an album is irrelevant or why we the audience should look past style and appreciate what makes it great. These offer a counterpoint to the desire for articulation that motivates the descriptive reviews, and give a quick synopsis where that is all that is needed. They are more motivational than merely reporting the facts; this style might be useful in dismissing some of the recent material that labels pump out which requires no more than a few minutes to recognize as an archetype of fail and dismiss.

As has been the trend with the last few issues of Codex Obscurum, the editors struggle to balance a gory old-school art-driven layout with a postmodern format that is easy to read in the age of computers, tablets and whatever “et cetera” will soon encompass. An abundance of great artwork appears throughout Issue Six, with more use of graphics inserted in the text stream or offset to one side. The Acid Witch, Fister and Ritual Decay interviews could fit in either a glossy pro-printed magazine or a contraband underground zine and show an optimization of this layout style. One thing that could improve is the differentiation between interviewer and interviewee, which is currently done with the industry standard of the speaker’s initials at the start of the line. An ideal layout of this format has proved elusive, with some zines bolding the comments by the interviewee, but this like most other solutions burns more page real estate. On this site, we put the interviewer’s comments in bold because that makes them easy to skip, but also requires more paragraph space which is at a premium in a zine that has to render itself to paper instead of the limitless scrolling of modern society’s replacement for daytime television, the internet. An ideal answer may conceal itself on this issue but it is the only area where this zine proved difficult to read at a glance, which is otherwise facilitated by its clean layout with clearly separated art and well-signaled interviews with band logo at the top of each.

Issue Six continues what seems to be becoming a section in Codex Obscurum, which is an unboxing and review of Dungeons & Dragons gaming sets and lines of books. While many in the metal community seek to isolate themselves from the inner nerd inherent to all metal, a more realistic assessment shows that many metalheads are in fact nerds “in the closet” who enjoy many activities which stimulate the imagination and analytical thought process simultaneously much as D&D does. This feature goes beyond the knowledge of the casual attendee at D&D games and could stand on its own in any lifestyle or technical magazine. Among the thoughtful interviews and carefully articulated reviews, the role-playing game material fits hand in glove, and adds to the feeling of this zine as well-rounded in the underground sense, covering music and lifestyle without drifting into the product fetishism that shears mainstream magazines off from the flow of what fulfills people both as metal fans and individuals. Looking forward to seeing this zine continue to grow and develop.

Compilation of Death issue three ready for release


Chilean old-school underground metal zine Compilation of Death prepares to release its third issue, a book-bound assorted of interviews, reviews and features on underground death metal and black metal music.

Under the ministrations of editor Gabriel Andres Gatica Kretschmer, Compilation of Death has steadily gained audience and notable writers like Daryl Kahan of Disma fame. Its first two editions now being completely sold out, the zine looks forward to a new audience with this professionally packaged and ornately laid out content.

Codex Obscurum – Issue Five


Codex Obscurum graces these pages frequently as one of few print zines who uphold the idea of the underground: a focus on music, not popularity, and insight into the motivations and mentation of those who pursue the unholy music of death. Issue Five from this promising zine takes its power to new heights.

Over the preceding issues, Codex Obscurum refined its approach to layout, personality and content and now appears in a fully mature form. Layouts are readable and densely packed with information, interviews dig into the thoughts and emotions of those who are active in the underground, and content selection shows a strong preference for the ancient spirits of obscure music as well as an inclination to pick from current music the few bright lights who understand it in spirit as well as mechanics.

Layout for example shows great evolution. High-contrast pages of black on white or its inverse use sparse but intense images to anchor smoothly-flowing, tightly-packed text. The result proves readable for those in a computer age who wish for a professional layout in a print magazine, and allows the content to pop out at the reader without interference or confusing background. The resulting more efficient use of these pages allows the staff to cram in more interviews, notably more reviews, and features that show a concise but outspoken style.

Issue Five begins with a stream of interviews including most notably Brutal Truth, Krieg and At the Gates. These show the seasoned journalist at work, avoiding most of the standard background questions of mechanics and instead querying the musicians in detail about their compositional and stylistic choices. That approach elicits answers which deepen the connection between band and reader by escaping the surface world of rock and looking at metal as a series of choices united by a shared identity and way of looking at the world.

The At the Gates interview reveals the workings of of legendary band as the questioner probes into the branches of its career and the resulting changes in the music. Focusing also on the upcoming At the Gates album At War With Reality the interviewer knits past and future through the words of the band. A candid Brutal Truth exploration follows with bassist Dan Lilker talking about his approach to music and his history with the second-wave grindcore act, after which a cerebral Krieg interview digs into the questions that metal finds troubling. Witness this exchange:

Where do you see the place of black metal in the greater context of the development of musical styles in human culture?

I don’t see it as culturally important to humanity as a whole, only some countries it’s made a direct effect on their history and even then in the grand scheme of this shit circus it’s about as important as that one time you jerked off that one day that you don’t quite remember but you know that you did. It was engaging for those few minutes but then you finished and went on with your life. That’s how I see it in the big picture. But seeing that we’re Americans and American society places incredible emphasis on solipsism, then for the individual it’s touched it could be the greatest cultural movement of his/her life and for however long that individual is alive it’s the one thing they carry that had the greatest significance possible.

A welcome change comes in the form of the reviews which pack the ending pages of this zine. These take a longer form and look more in-depth at the music and use less rhetoric and judgment than before, which makes them more informative. In this issue, an editorial of a true metal nature follows the reviews and brings up a number of significant points for any thinking metalhead to ponder. This type of fully-developed personality shows the strength of this zine in its second year and fifth issue and promises even greater heights for its future.

Codex Obscurum #5 now available


Codex Obscurum #5 is now available for preorder at the following location and will ship in the last week of may. Preordering helps offset the cost of printing the zine. As previously covered in these pages, Codex Obscurum presents the underground in the form it originally evolved: xeroxed pages, in depth content, and careful choice of featured bands.

Issue #5 contains:
Art by Matt Putrid
At The Gates
Brutal Truth
Dead Congregation
Morbus Chron
Satans Satyrs
The Wakedead Gathering
Church Burn
& More

Why zines are coming back big time


People say what they hope will be true and the grand visions printed about the internet back in the 90s are no exception. While most of us were hoping for Neuromancer on our home computers, more “mature” people saw the internet as an emerging market. They cynically promised as a new age where anyone could publish to the internet. It would be a new age free of domination by big media and a marketplace of ideas, they said.

Fast-forward to the time when those predictions would have come true and we see a far different reality. Information overload renders the internet mostly useless. With so many sites dumping information on the masses, the ones that succeed are the ones who get mentioned in the traditional media. Thus in metal media, the big internet sites are dependent on label money. Labels advertise, sites repeat, then that gets quoted in advertising and the audience, figuring the site must be a big deal, flocks to it.

This means that the big metal sites have exactly the same problems big media did back in the 1980s. If a band is good but not popular with a huge spectrum of people and thus high-margin profitable, it doesn’t get mentioned. We’re right back where we were before the internet, except information overload makes it even harder to find the information of real importance, which is focus on the good metal bands whether vastly popular or not.

As I observed in a review of a rising zine, the days of big internet media are giving way to the return of zines:

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.

Most people had a problem with this. After all, it’s one lone guy screaming at the last 20 years of media consultant wisdom. But sometimes nature favors the brave (and correct) and so this idea is gaining traction. Witness this recent piece by Marc Andreesen, one of the authors of NCSA Mosaic (Mozilla Firefox’s great-grandfather) and now a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley:

On the Internet, there’s no limit to the number of outlets or voices in the news chorus. So quality can easily coexist with crap. All can thrive in their respective markets—and there’s a market for garbage, too. The good news is this: The more noise, confusion and crap, the more the need for trusted guides, respected experts and quality brands.

The vital sentence there is: The more noise, confusion and crap, the more the need for trusted guides, respected experts and quality brands.

  • The “noise, confusion and crap” applies to the broken ecosystem where blogs depend on label publicity for support and thus the only blogs that rise to the top are the ones who run the party line. The bigger internet sites are useless unless you want label propaganda. This includes Wikipedia and Metal-Archives, who insist on “verified” information which means a predisposition to believe the press releases over actuality.
  • The “trusted guides, respected experts and quality brands” describe those who make a name for themselves by knowing good from bad. Trusted guides are like reviewers at your favorite zine; respected experts are book authors, radio DJs and other people with intense knowledge of metal history; quality brands are labels that “can do no wrong,” much like Osmose Productions during the early days of black metal or Drowned Records back int he death metal days.

What this points to is a resurgence in zines and niche/specialty websites that are not sponsored by labels or media. Those represent the true promise of both the internet and the DIY publishing revolution that launched zines back in the 60s and 70s. Even more, it points to a “singularity” where the internet is recognized as not being what it was sold as, and consumers retreat except for a relatively small group of people who inhabit the net like nerds (4chan, NWN/FMP, Facebook).

After all, the internet is in trouble because time is revealing its advertising model to be bogus metrics based on warm bodies instead of actual attention by people with the ability to buy. More than half of online video ads are not seen, and A small group of people account for most of the activity on the internet which means that advertising is pitching to this group, not buyers, which is one reason why internet advertising continues to have dubious results. Users hate it and it’s easy to ignore.

One possibility is that like many industries before it, the metal industry is flush with cash and has more coming in if it just keeps shipping product regardless of quality. Thus a bubble has been created where money is going toward strategies that don’t actually work or only work with a limited or captive audience. This bubble produces a disconnect between the audience the labels and blogs see, and the larger audience of real-life (“IRL”) people who actually enjoy this music and will buy it — if someone points them to the quality stuff, not just whatever crap the labels are pushing this week.

All of this means that zines have an expanding audience before them. People want experts. Metal zines that are writing consistent reviews that sort good from bad on the basis of the music alone, and that don’t follow the underground trends that are the parallel equivalent of the big label propaganda, will be in high demand. My guess is that they will abandon most of the “underground-style” aesthetic and streamline it into something more reproducible, and focus on more issues at lower cost rather than big ornate rarities.

For metal, this means great opportunity. Metal thrives where it is highly selective. This is because it is easy to make metal, but hard to make good metal. Further, unlike “pure music” genres like jazz and fusion, metal is highly content-driven. This means that songs must imitate and explicate some phenomenon found in the world or in our minds, and thus must be more poetic than the simple jams of other bands. All of this means that we need more of those “trusted guides” in metal than are currently being offered.

Profile: Codex Obscurum editor Kevin Ord

Photo: Aaron Pepelis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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