Haunting The Chapel No. 5
In March, longstanding crusty, female-fronted San Francisco black metal quintet Ludicra are releasing The Tenant, the excellent followup to 2007’s Fex Urbis Lex Orbus. I was a fan of the last one, but The Tenant is their most complete, captivating album to date. I give more detailed thoughts on the collection in the following interview with drummer Aesop Dekker, so I’ll keep it basic here. Dekker’s also a member of Agalloch, so I asked him when we can expect some new material from those folks. I still listen to 2006’s Ashes Against The Grain at least once a week, it seems, so am excited by what he had to say. (I also asked him what his Ludicra bandmate John Cobbett, the mind behind Hammers Of Misfortune, is up to…) It’ll be a big few months for Ludicra, who’re playing the Scion Fest (this time in Columbus, Ohio) on 3/13 and are going on tour with Mayhem, along with Krallice and Tombs, in April. I caught up with him before things got too hectic. There’s also info about Negur? Bunget, Velvet Cacoon, and the just mentioned scaled-down-but-still-impressive Scion Fest, etc., after our discussion.
STEREOGUM: The Tenant’s cover doesn’t look black metal. I have a real affinity for BM imagery and the feelings it evokes in me, but at the same time, deviations usually strike me as a positive thing … especially at this point. What’s the idea behind The Tenant’s imagery?
AESOP DEKKER: Usually the art is the last thing after the recording. The art ties in with the lyrics to create a theme of tenancy, occupying a small space in a larger picture. As for the basic aesthetic, we wanted something that sort of evoked hipgnosis’ work, especially Pink Floyd. We have always avoided typically “black metal” type images, they never feel in keeping with our music.
STEREOGUM: This ties into the previous question: Over the past couple of years, people have started taking USBM more seriously. At the same time, the Second Wave Norwegian stuff is making inroads into popular culture via Vice, Peter Best, Until The Light Takes Us, etc. Hell, I was recently photographed at a fucking black metal theory conference by the NY Times and quoted on NPR re: Krallice. It’s an interesting period. What are your thoughts on this? How has Black Metal’s landscape shifted since you released Fex Urbis Lex Orbis?
AD: I’m not sure too much has changed since Fex regarding the USBM “scene.” I’d say the big shift came before when people discovered Leviathan and Xasthur. Black Metal in general has entered into the mainstream eye as a whole. We haven’t benefited or been hurt by it, we have always existed on the periphery of black metal. We don’t feel part of a national or international black metal scene. Of course as a fan of the earlier bands, I do miss some of the mystique of when Black Metal was lesser known, however there are some very exciting and young American Black Metal bands that are exploring new territory rather than rehash Darkthrone riffs. That is a plus.
STEREOGUM: I’m still working on that USBM oral history I interviewed you for a year or so ago. The more I do it, the more folks talk about this East Coast vs. West Coast divide. Do you agree/disagree? 2009 saw a NYC black metal scene emerging via Liturgy, Krallice, Black Anvil, Malkuth, etc….
AD: I don’t know about that, I am mostly unaware of a NY scene outside of Krallice and Malkuth. We played NYC recently with Liturgy, the audience was outstanding, there was no attitude. I don’t know that the U.S. will enjoy any kind of regional rivalries as did Scandinavia in the ’90s. There was some folks down in L.A. who were trying to initiate a Southern vs. Northern California Black Metal war, but most of it just amounted to internet forum posturing and empty threats. I am quite fond of Krallice, but I think they owe a bit to Weakling.
STEREOGUM: How important is San Francisco to Ludicra?
AD: San Francisco is very important to Ludicra, it is our muse. We have all been in the Bay Area for some time now and we all have a very personal connection to this city. We have all stuck it out while the rents skyrocketed during the dot com boom, we have struggled to stay here. All of our songs take place in San Francisco because they are about us, and our lives here. It has a creative spirit like no other city in America, it fosters great art because there is serious competition.
STEREOGUM: How important is/was Weakling?
AD: Weakling was huge to us as friends and an influence. They showed us that you can do a Black Metal band in the US and it can be quality. They were San Francisco’s first BM band (if you don’t count VON) and they made the best American Black metal album to date. It has been a great pleasure to see them enjoy a posthumous cult status. We remember when they couldn’t draw a stick figure. Tremendous band.
STEREOGUM: As far as the album… Who is “The Tenant”? When Chris first sent me the file, I immediately thought of Kafka. Is it a political album? For some reason the idea of a tenant also makes me think of that … because a tenant needs a landlord of some sort. Same with “The Undercaste.”
AD: “The Tenant” is any one of us, mainly Laurie. She is writing from the perspective of a person living in a city, in a room. We aren’t a political band, but you are correct about the notion of living under a landlord being a thread in the theme. Tenancy, tenants rights, evictions and the like are all very prevalent issues in San Francisco. It is unavoidable so it becomes another theme in Ludicra’s repetoire. “The Undercaste” is about homelessness, sort of un-tenancy, another very visible and depressing factor of life in San Francisco. We hold opinions and political views but Ludicra is not a forum for them, we tend to keep it very insular and personal.
STEREOGUM: What’s the idea behind “Truth Won’t Set You Free”? It strikes me as a particularly angry, or at least energized and cathartic, track. A slogan in song.
AD: It is a song about the subjectivity of truth, the manipulation of perception. It is the most hostile track on the album, it is a scathing indictment of those who skew facts to further an agenda. It could apply to the media, the church, but we try not to be so specific. Again, it may have a political underpinning, but it isn’t so clearcut.
STEREOGUM: Ironically, “Stagnant Pond” is one of the album’s most anthemic moments … it’s not stagnant at all … Which pond are we talking about?
AD: That was the first track we wrote for The Tenant so it shows a marked improvement in our arrangements. As far as the lyrics go, I am not entirely sure about their direct meaning. Laurie tends to use things like ponds and soil as metaphors for the conditions of the body, mind, and soul. I imagine if the pond is stagnant it may be speaking of a listlessness that comes with clinical depression.
STEREOGUM: Really, I’m curious about all the tracks … What themes tie the songs together?
AD: As I mentioned earlier, we keep things very personal lyrically so the albums adopt a natural autobiographical theme. Mental illness is another recurring theme, it is all around us. Suicide, failed relationships, poverty. All of our albums have been about us living in the city and our friends and their struggles. We want people to imagine that these songs were born from a room, a very personal place. Not the forest, not the ocean, but from a shabby room in an old city.
STEREOGUM: Musically, the album feels more METAL than Fex. When I say this, I mean you’re folding in non-black metal grooves, the acoustic layering feels different than black metal folksiness, we get riffs that people who don’t necessarily like BM would dig, etc. It’s expansive. There are more complex harmonies, It blends genres. I’ve always felt this blending in Ludicra’s music, but its more pronounced here … like the punk groove on “In Stable,” or whatever. Did you approach The Tenant differently than the past material? It feels deeper to me somehow, too…
AD: This has always been our intention, to just write effective music rather than to focus on what is “black metal” or what is not. I think we just took the same approach with The Tenant as we did on previous albums, but we got better at it. We became better players, writers, arrangers … Maybe with each album we let other influences creep in, “In Stable” has an obvious Coroner meets NWOBHM vibe to it in parts, maybe we didn’t feel confident going there in the past, but it never feels contrived, we are just doing what we have been doing since the first album, writing songs and recording them. I think Ludicra works because we follow an instinctual path. Our goals with every record are to simply make the best Ludicra album. If there is more depth to The Tenant it is just growth and not any real defined effort to be so.
STEREOGUM: Are you planning to tour?
AD: Yes, at the moment we are hashing out the details for a pretty extensive US/Canada tour. Hopefully we can finally get Ludicra on European soil as well. We have definitely become more open to the idea of traveling. Previously we had to juggle school, other bands, family, and jobs to travel but we have made ourselves more available.
STEREOGUM: You folks are all busy. When can we expect a new Agalloch? And what’s John up to?
AD: Agalloch has pretty much wrapped up writing what will be the fourth album, some demos have been passed around and we hope to start tracking around May. Agalloch has a very different process than Ludicra and it takes some getting used to on my end, but I predict it will be a strong release. [Agalloch’s] John Haughm or [Ludicra’s] John Cobbett? Haughm is diligently working on writing the next Agalloch album and making homemade wine. Cobbett is writing the next Hammers Of Misfortune album and reading financial blogs.
The Tenant is out early to mid March via Profound Lore. The tracklist:
01 “Stagnant Pond”
02 “A Larger Silence”
03 “In Stable”
04 “The Undercaste”
05 “Clean White Void”
06 “Truth Won’t Set You Free”
07 “The Tenant”
It’s an excellent record, really … a personal favorite. The band wants to keep it under wraps until the release date, so here’s “A Larger Silence,” which has been floating around:
The top 10 Aesop gave me for my year-end roundup:
01 Yob – The Great Cessation
02 Absu – Absu
03 Master’s Hammer – Mantras
04 Amesouers – Amesouers
05 Cross Stitched Eyes – Coronach
06 Dinosaur Jr. – Farm
07 Giant Squid – The Ichthyologist
08 Circle of Ouroborus – Tree of Knowledge
09 Peste Noire – Ballade Cuntre Lo Anemi Francor
10 Sixx – Sister Devil (reissue of 1991 cassette)
04/10 – Montreal, QC @ Les Foufounes Electriques
04/21 – Seattle, WA @ Studio Seven
04/22 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
04/24 – San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s
04/27 – Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater
More to come.
While we’re focusing on West Coast black metal… I forgot to mention this note I (and a few others) received in mid December from Josh of divisive Portland black metal tricksters Velvet Cacoon regarding the band’s demise:
This will be the final correspondence before communication winds down and the VC site is made dormant. Almost ten years of being the most obnoxious “thing” ever, let it serve as a lesson to remind you why drugs are bad.
VC is now a thing of the past and some of us involved with the project from the start (including d.Marvin of the Baltimore project Veinke) have moved onward as Clair Cassis to do more of that black metal thing we do.
Look for a Clair Cassis album early 2010 on Full Moon. You can hear some material here. This week I’ve been listen quite a bit to High On Fire’s Snakes For The Divine (E1 Music), those Drudkh’s The Swan Road and Autumn Aurora reissues (Season Of Mist), Fleurety’s Ingentes Atque Decorii Vexilliferi Apokalypsis (Aesthetic Death), and Nokturnal Mortum’s The Voice of Steel (Oriana/No Colours), etc. As far as the latter, my friend joked that the Ukrainian group’s newest “approaches Don Henley’s solo material at times,” but that he still digs it. The new Negur? Bunget album Maiestrit just received a US release date, 4/6 via Prophecy. Yesterday, the Romanian progressive black metal group posted a sample track, “A-vint In Abis.” Info about the release:
Maiestrit is a re-recording/re-interpretation of Negur? Bunget’s classic Maiastru Sfetnic album from 2000, and now the final album to feature the band’s classic lineup of vocalist/guitarist Hupogrammos, drummer Negru, and guitarist Sol Faur.
01 “Vremea Locului Sortit”
02 “In-zvicnirea Apusului”
03 “A-vint In Abis”
04 “Al Locului”
06 “Plecaciunea Mortii”
07 “A-vint In Abis” (acoustic version)
08 “Plecaciunea Mortii” (acoustic version)
Take a listen to “A-vint In Abis” at MySpace.
Moribund announced today that they’ve signed Finland’s Wyrd, the decade-old pagan black metal/blackened doom crew fronted by Azaghal guitarist Narqath, for their ninth album Death Of The Sun. Keep watch at MySpace.
Finally, as mentioned, the Scion Fest’s lineup was announced. It’ll take place at four venues in Columbus. Personal highlights: YOB, Absu, Voivod, Ludicra, Hate Eternal, and Magrudergrind … And I’ll be rooting for New York regulars, Liturgy and Black Anvil. The flyer’s below. The show’s still free. You can RSVP at Scion.