Haunting The Chapel: Introducing Stereogum’s New Metal Column
Regular readers of this blog know that our own Brandon Stosuy is a passionate metal fan. And in recent months we’ve seen an enthusiastic response to our occasional coverage of the genre. So starting today, in the form of this as-yet-untitled, flexibly scheduled column, Stereogum will be devoting space to the best new metal music, with Brandon as our guide. Happy Halloween…
A few years ago I thought it would be fun to put my metal writing in one spot, so I asked Pitchfork if they’d let me do a column. At that time I was a regular contributor to the site, but was getting tired of straight-up record reviews (which often seemed to be more about the writer than the band being discussed), so I decided to make the column a place for long-form interviews capped with short, basic introductions that situated the subjects in some kind of context. I didn’t always stick to the plan at first (one time Peter Sotos, Mark Solotroff, and Kevin Drumm did capsule reviews for me in a bar in Chicago), but eventually the pattern emerged. The idea was that if I was covering a band, I clearly liked them, so no need to sell you on it. I also wanted to approach things honestly and to avoid some of the tongue-in-cheek or over-the-top hyperbole that can come with metal writing. I’d tried to drive that home in a piece I wrote for Slate about metal and hipsters in 2005: It was basically a joke on hipsters and a paeon to music I grew up loving in rural Southern, NJ, where all of my sister’s boyfriends had bad teenage mustaches and Metallica shirts. The personal connection to the music is important to me: For instance, as uncool as it may seem, the column’s name was clearly inspired by the Slayer album, but it was also a nod to a name my friend Alex proposed for his dog before he opted for the less flashy Nero. Anyhow, I launched Show No Mercy in June 2006 via an interview with Nachtmystium’s Blake Judd…
If you ever read the column, one thing you might’ve noticed is that they were generally pretty (ok, very) long. This is because SNM ran monthly, but I listen constantly to new stuff and wanted to share as much as possible with those who cared to read it. I remember handing 20-something page documents to my editor more than once with sheepish apologies attached, promises to make them shorter next time.
I appreciate the space Pitchfork gave me — especially considering SNM popped up on a mostly indie-rock site when heavy metal wasn’t as crossed over as it is is now — but a few weeks ago I told them I wanted to move the column to Stereogum. One of the best things about the move is that I’ll have more control over how often the column runs. (I can do it once a week, if I want. I’m guessing it’ll never reach that sorta regularity because part of me always needs to be obsessive, but it’s nice knowing the possibility exists.) That, and
it’s where most of my writing appears anyhow …. It feels more natural.
So, maybe you’re asking, “Why isn’t ‘Show No Mercy’ written at the top of the page?” That’s where things get tricky. When I told Pitchfork I was relocating the column over here they were cool with it and told me to come back whenever, etc., but because I signed an employee contract at one point, they technically own the name. (Of course, Slayer owns it, too, and Alex’s dog almost owned it, but hey.) I understand business is business, though, so instead of turning this into some kind of protracted Negativland vs. U2 thing, I decided to surrender “Show No Mercy” and come up with a new title. Thurs far I haven’t been able to think of anything I like, so I decided to launch sans title and ask you for your help. If you have any ideas, please post them in the comments. If I choose your name, I’ll make sure you get full credit. (As long as you don’t tell me you own it a few years down the
line.) (Just kidding.)
Before we get into this installment — which includes interviews with Canadian black metallers Weapon and Australia’s mind-warping blackened death crew Portal plus a slew of MP3s and streams for Halloween — I should mention a show I’m putting together this weekend. For the past year I’ve done monthly metal shows in Brooklyn that are/were loosely connected to the column. Connected because I choose bands I like …. often bands I’ve covered (or am about to cover). My friend Dominick and I organized a Celestia/Bone Awl/Agrath show together last weekend that we decided to keep as anonymous as possible. The events culminate, for the time being, on Halloween (this Saturday) with a cross-genre event featuring Mt. Eerie, Malkuth, and Liturgy. I decided to pair up two local black metal bands after listening to Mt. Eerie’s Wind’s Poem and then talking with him about his black metal obsession. In a pretty clear way, the hybrid also serves as a celebration of the column’s new home.
Please come dressed up like your favorite Slayer album.
Weapon is the longstanding project of Vetis Monarch, though since 2003 the Canadian band’s released just a demo, two EPs, and the excellent new full-length Drakonian Paradigm, out via Ajna Offensive. Like some of my favorite black metal bands, Weapon doesn’t stick to a template; instead, they mix death, black, straight-up heavy metal, and a Satanic philosophy that includes Eastern influences (which you’ll also hear subtly via some Eastern instrumentation) into an atmospheric, anthemic, post-Dissection whole. Take a listen to “Cacophony! Black Sun Dragon’s Tongue” after the discussion.
STEREOGUM: I used to live in Calgary. Once I took a trek to Edmonton for a few days (and then continued north to Grande Prairie). It’s cold in those parts. Colder than anywhere in the U.S. You go back and forth between Calgary and Edmonton, it seems. But then, you’ve also spent time in Bangladesh, which has a tropical climate, right? I’m interested in these extremes. How have these different climates/landscapes contributed to your approach to black metal? The landscape between those cities?
VETIS MONARCH: I lived in Calgary for almost 10 years and that’s where WEAPON was formed. Perhaps you misunderstood what I said in the AJNA interview, but it was our ex-guitarist who was going back and forth between Calgary and Edmonton (since he lives in Calgary). It’s only a 2 – 3 hr drive, but even that can get stressful when you do it on a weekly basis and throw other things like work, girlfriend, and fucking life in the equation.
VM: As you said, it’s definitely colder here than anywhere in the USA. Even when I lived in New York in the late ’90s, it never quite got like this. And yes, living in Bangladesh and India in my youth, places that are very warm, humid, tropical… All these extremes of opposites are bound to affect one’s persona, I think. Growing up with violence all around you is bound to shape you a certain way. I think my approach to Black Metal wasn’t necessarily influenced by climate and landscapes, but more so the cultures and (religious / political) environments. The ever-evolving sound of WEAPON, however, is primarily an internal enigma.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of place: Are there other bands you associate with in Alberta (Calgary or Edmonton, etc.)?
VM: We have a few acquaintances that play in other bands, but that’s the extent of it. WEAPON doesn’t partake in any local scene activities because we simply do not care about things like “scene”, “metal community” and other such nonsense; to each his own, do what thou wilt. Of course, this allegedly arrogant stance on our part leads to a lot of gossip and shit-talking about W within said “community”, but really, who gives a fuck? Frankly speaking, there are just far too many shitty, hometown-hero bands and pregnant, groupie sluts that are not worth our time; so we’d rather stay secluded and just do our own thing.
STEREOGUM: Why did you wait so long to do a full-length? The album has music/lyrics from as early as 2004 on it. Was it the movement between cities/the shifting lineup? Or did it take this long to complete it to your satisfaction?
VM: We weren’t in any rush to get an album out. The ‘older’ songs are from the previous EPs, where they had received the classic underground treatment: limited pressing, shitty distribution / production, et al. We wanted to include certain songs on the debut full-length which we feel are very strong and unique songs; for me, personally, they were always meant to be on the first full-length.
But there were deterrents, and the instability in line-up was the biggest one in releasing, or rather, realizing this album sooner. Many people were (unsuccessfully) auditioned to fit the pulse of the band; and even when I thought I had it figured out and moved ahead, I had actually taken three steps backwards. With the help of a couple of friends I managed to release an EP on Full Moon Productions, which took almost a year to get released after we sent them the master. My drug use was totally out of control at this time so suffice to say, it was one obstacle after another.
STEREOGUM: A question from my friend Nicola: “Weapon embodies raw beauty and spontaneous ritual integrity — a sound I associate with the more powerful anti-cosmic bands: Volahn, Teutoburg Forest, Portal. Is your music anticosmic?”
VM: I am not a fan of Portal and the other bands I have never even heard of. But yes, WEAPON’s music, lyrics and energies are most certainly anti-cosmic / Satanic.
STEREOGUM: In your mind, what IS the Darkonian Paradigm? In practice?
VM: We harness spiritual ascension through lawlessness; we awaken the inner wolf to stay on the offensive for the big picture; we exploit the system from the inside-out to channel liberation.
Drakonian Paradigm is our final frontier, the end of the line, so to speak. It is a metaphor for rebirth to be completely in league with Lucifer. Our actions, our music, our life — all of it is in preparation for something truly sinister yet rewarding.
STEREOGUM: Can you discuss the meaning behind “Remnants Of A Burnt Mosque”? What does one do with those remnants?
VM: “Remnants…” is about erasing your morality and mortal chains. The song discusses the realms that rightfully belong to a Satanist and what one must do in order to inherit them. Knowledge is perhaps our greatest weapon, but we are often bound to the chains of false hope, and thus, fail to earn what we must.
“The Scythe of Gnosis may be the salvation we seek, ?Alas; so easily unseen mere, mortal constraints; ?To tread the obscure path that Darkness commands – ?Our binding flesh is the mosque that must be burned. “
STEREOGUM: How does ritual function in Weapon and in your life?
VM: Our musical / lyrical process is a ritual in itself. It’s essentially divided into 3 parts – channeling, centralizing, and releasing. In the right settings, it can be extremely powerful and rewarding.
My personal ritual is LEFTHANDPATHYOGA which I’d rather not get into.
STEREOGUM: Can you discuss the concept behind the Drakonian Paradigm’s “Signvm Armorvm”?
VM: Signvm Armorvm literally translates to “Seal of Weapon.” When we were discussing the possibilities of the cover artwork, I made a crude sketch of an official “seal” of the band, and that’s how the idea took off. Then Benjamin Vierling entered the picture and created this intense piece of artwork that is the ultimate Seal of Weapon.
As you can see, there are two stylized serpents forming sig runes in the upper flanks of the geometry. Since our band’s name is Weapon, it made sense to incorporate these elements representing victory through conflict. The serpent, of course, is an icon of gnosis, so the symbol can be dual in purpose; the weaving effect of the geometry inherently adds to the dimension of the piece. The Lucifer figure is akin to a German-Romanesque style manuscript illustration from the 12th century. Its origin is actually a non-specific angel (cherubim), which was altered by Vierling to depict the Bringer of Light; note the eyes in the wings (transcendent and penetrating Vision), and the gesture of the hands: the Left is forming the horned mudra, while the Right is the lowered signature of benediction, which is also used by the Baphomet in Levi’s famous illustration. The halo around His head correlates with the Black Sun. Beneath Lucifer’s feet is the turning wheel of the cosmos; vocation, kismet et al. It is in flames as you can see; this is simply to indicate the mastery of Will over matter, the harnessing of the root Chakra, and sovereignty over Fate. Lucifer remains fixed in His descent despite the turning of the wheel. The inverse crescents signify the receptive lunar principle, while the geometry of the three haloed deathheads balances with the burning wheel of Fate at the nadir. The structure of the piece itself has been sketched in the form of a mandala. Carl Jung saw the mandala as an illustration of the unconscious Self, and believed that his own paintings of mandalas enabled him to detect internal turmoil and toil towards unity in individuality.
STEREOGUM: Another one from Nicola: “You often use the word ‘cunt’ in previous interviews, referring to ‘Wicca cunts’, ‘feminist cunts’, ‘sour cunts who . . . lament the so-called glory days of Metal’, and the possible ‘iota’ of your maternal grandfather’s musical talent that ‘came to me when I came out of my mother’s cunt.’ What role does the word-concept of ‘cunt’ play in your pursuit of gnosis? Is there a connection to Kali Ma, the goddess you worship in ‘Serpentine Ayat’?”
VETIS MONARCH: Ma Kalilith’s cunt is the only cunt that matters; a lifetime of devotion and sadhana to praise the orifice of The Mother Pralaya. Aside from that, I just love the impact of that word. It seems to infuriate a lot of sensitive people…
STEREOGUM: Samhain’s around the corner. Any plans?
VETIS MONARCH: The usual — composing, writing, rehearsing; manipulating the veins of Darkness. We are also gearing up for some gigs and writing the next album.
Portal guitarist Horror Illogium stopped through to give me a list of his favorite records of 2007 (the same year his band’s second album Outre landed in my top 10). He’s back to discuss the group’s third album Swarth, on which he also did all the bass, out now via Profound Lore. If you haven’t heard the imploded, “abstract horror”-inspired Australian blackened death crew, take a listen to “Illoomorpheme” before going anywhere. You’ll feel like you just entered a very dark wind tunnel inscribed with incantations like so: “Blisters Of Atmos Void Supine / Mills Ending Hurl Malign / Assailantsea Wership Thee.”
Portal – “Illoomorpheme” (MP3)
What people often focus on — who can blame them — are the band’s on-stage get-ups, which include vocalist the Curator wearing a clock on his head and the rest of the band decked in hoods. They’re currently touring as a quintet and plan to hit our shores for the Maryland Deathfest in May, so keep eyes peeled.
STEREOGUM: When people talk about Portal, they usually start by mentioning the surrealistic visuals/your attire. Do you ever feel hemmed in by that approach? Any plans to shift the look?
HORROR ILLOGIUM: It tends to manifest itself of its own accord, it is mere apparel that brings about a certain mindset to deliver the blackfoul music.??
STEREOGUM: Tied to that: What was the initial inspiration for the Clock, etc? Wearing masks or face paint, etc., clearly has a long lineage in metal … but curious how you decided on your specific look.
HI: This was brought about by the use of imagination, just looking at grandfather clocks is inspiration enough, however it is documented as an heirloom of the past…
STEREOGUM: You’ve mentioned the influence of Morbid Angel on your sound. And Beherit, Immolation. The atmosphere is there for sure, but MA, etc., have a forward, at times anthemic burst that you seem to reject in favor of a more claustrophobic whirlpool — it’s as if you avoid release — which gives it an entirely different power. What influenced this approach? Or, how did you arrive at it?
HI: It arrives upon its own course unconsciously, we have never used the same formula in any two songs, they come about from what we find interesting as we make the discovery … every band has influences, of course, those mentioned were very important as inspiration years ago. We’re not interested in upholding a foundation of a genre, there are plenty of bands that do that just fine.
STEREOGUM: Connected to that: How do you go about writing a song? Maybe walk us through one? Like, for instance, “Marityme.”
HI: Every single song is created differently, otherwise it would be boring. “Marityme” pushed itself upward from stirred emotions of a very dark place, that song is likely the most free flowing in terms of writing.
STEREOGUM: There’s so much atmosphere in your music. Has it been difficult recreating certain tracks live?
HI: Reverse … We find it more difficult to capture our potency onto a recording … as a matter of fact.
STEREOGUM: There are some newer death metal bands like Dead Congregation who have really mastered the feel of old-school death metal. Are you at all
interested in contemporary death metal? Ever listen to Hooded Menace?
HI: For contemporaries, personally I’m interested in such acts as Stargazer, Cauldron Black Ram, Nocturnal Graves, Grave Miasma etc. I’ve not heard Hooded Menace before.
STEREOGUM: How did you decide on the word “Swarth” for the title? You’re thinking of it in terms of an apparition of someone about to die? Are the songs at all connected lyrically?
HI: The Curator’s version of Swarth is a monstrous entity that devours all light and life, a mass of ever expanding black repugnant evil. The songs are connected and exist in the same dimension, along with the likes of Abysmill, Sourlows, Heirships, Black Houses, Glumurphonel, Atmosblisters and The Endmills … tied in with the entire Swarth titles, they serve a purpose for each to exist in some kind of unearthly machination.
STEREOGUM: Which leads me to…. The Curator’s lyrics are cryptic, sparse. Can you shed some light on them? Or is that not especially important to the overall ?atmosphere? What are some inspirations? In lit, art, etc. You’re intentionally shifting the proper spellings of things, etc. (I’ve been told you’re moving away from the Lovecraft thing. Which I think is good. He’s probably the most over-referenced writer in metal. Why do you think?)
HI: The only titles that have anything to do with Lovecraft, August Derleth and Brian Laumley in their Cthulhu Mythos are Sunken, Transcending a mere Muliverse, Tempus Fugit, Omnipotent Crawling Chaos and 13 Globes which evidently were all penned by Illogium whose influence from the Mythos had the most hold. It is not a matter of moving away rather that it was a lyrical facet alongside that which The Curator started to create and now there is so much of his work to cover, it is the basis of the inspiration … his lyrics may be cryptic however it does not take an overly intelligent person to work out the meaning, Omenknow is a deliberate code however. The overall theme of this interweaved conundrum are machinations that work as a force of destruction and darkness, heinous agendas.
STEREOGUM: What is your music a portal to, exactly?
HI: Dreadful inter-dimensional horror.
STEREOGUM: Do you have any plans for Halloween?
HI: We will be rehearsing that night.
I spoke with WOLD’s Fortress Crookedjaw last night and he told me about the Social Pressure 7″ EP, out soon via Rotting Chapel Propaganda and that the band just finished recording a new CD titled Working For Our Privacy that includes three instrumentals clocking in at 36+ minutes. Looking forward to all of this.
I’ve mentioned being into the new Converge, Krallice, Gates Of Slumber, and Baroness. There’s a Krallice launch show at Union Pool on 11/13 at Union Pool, Brooklyn. You can catch Skeletonwitch with locals Black Anvil at Union Pool the following day (11/14). My pal Fred, aka Black Bubblegum, is putting on a show with Dark Castle, the Atlas Moth (enjoying that new album), and a “special guest” on 11/17, also at Union Pool. Taking us one day deeper into November and to a different venue, Fred’s also booking Blacktusk, Javelina, and a (very) special guest at the Charleston on 11/18. Javalina’s forthcoming Beasts Among Sheep is worth of its name. You can listen to the opener “You’re Going To Hate This” (you won’t) and “Black Blizzard” at their MySpace. Really excellent live band, too. For those who want to stay indoors, here are some MP3s and streams for Halloween weekend, along with a few links.
Been listening to Drudkh’s Microcosmos (Season Of Mist) quite a bit. Here’s “Distant Cries Of Cranes,” which gives you a little bit the various elements that make this record so great.
In a similar Pagan naturalist vein, listening a lot to newer British black metal quintet Wodnesthrone’s Loss (Bindrune): “Wodensthrone’s music is a path to Britain’s darker Pagan antiquity, in remembrance of the ancient land and those that once walked this earth beneath the eternal sun.” Really gorgeous stuff.
Yoga seem to get tagged “black metal’s Throbbing Gristle,” or whatever, fairly consistently, but this stuff opens up way more than that, weaving in all sorts of freak-out psychedelia. Take a listen to “Seventh Wind,” the opening track from Megafauna. It’s out via Holy Mountain, who are kindly streaming some tracks.
Yoga – “Seventh Wind” (MP3)
Katatonia’s clearly a different band now than they were on Dance Of December Souls and Brave Murder Day — two of my favorite albums ever — but I’m definitely enjoying Night Is The New Day. Especially when I need to slow things down. There’s a sampler at nightisthenewday.com. Here’s the opening track, “Forsaker.”
Katatonia – “Forsaker” (MP3)
You can stream Desecrated Internal Journey, the debut album of weirdo classical-minded French black metal band Way To End from start to finish over at their label’s site, debemur-morti.com.
At this point the most interesting black metal’s happening far (far) away from Norway, but for old-time’s sake, here are a couple of new songs from Gorgoroth and Immortal. “Human Sacrifice” comes from Gorgoroth’s post-Gaahl/King studio album Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt (Regain). It’s the re-made band’s first album with an American, Obituary bassist Frank Watkins, aka Bøddel. Take it away, Infernus.
This is the opening/title track from All Shall Fall (Nuclear Blast), Immortal’s eighth studio album, which gives us more frostbitten grimness from Abbath, Demonaz, and Horgh. Apollyon, of Aura Noir and ex-Dødheimsgard/Cadaver, etc., contributes bass. I do always enjoy the atmosphere they create.
As far as more below-the-rader Norwegian black metal, check out Hat (ex-Ravner) and their new one The Demise of Mankind (AntiChristian Front Recs). There’s some at MySpace. Or the awesomely performative one-man black metal from Sweden’s Kyla (aka Kim Carlsson of Lifelover, Life Is Pain, and Hypothermia).
Taking it back to Stateside, crusty, gnarled Georgia black metal duo Grinning Death’s Head are releasing their debut full-length on Mark McCoy’s Youth Attack soon enough. It’s dirty, filthy, punked-out black metal along the lines of Bone Awl. Totally great. You’ll find a couple other songs at MySpace. Vocalist/guitarist JW runs Satan’s Din Recordings.
The lyrics: “As we enter the fold / No more burdens await / Commence to the unknown / No more pleasure or pain / Is there something else / something more? / Heaven or Hell / evermore / Open the door.”
I’d be remiss not to post the flyer for Saturday’s show, too. Before that, you’ll find MP3s from Mt. Eerie, Liturgy, and Malkuth to get you in the mood. The Malkuth track’s from Sefirah Gevurah (Hospital). “Renihilation” closes out Liturgy’s album of the same name (20 Buck Spin). “Wind’s Dark Poem” opens Mt. Eerie’s Wind’s Poem, which Phil Elverum released via his own P.W. Elverum & Sun.
Regarding the show, doors are at 8PM. In the spirit of Halloween, it’s all ages. Also in the spirit of Halloween, Seldon Hunt made a very orange flyer. If you need more info, you can go to MySpace.
Finally, because it is Halloween…
[Jack-O-Lantern via indigo_silk]