WL 

Based out of Illinois, the Black Metal of the Americas zine has been a fascinating peek into many aspects of the underground American scene. Ed and Patrick, the two who pour themselves into the pages of BMotA, kindly answered a few questions about how and why they undertake this. Anyone interested in the content of this blog has likely already spent some time reading their work, and anyone who hasn’t ought to remedy this.  You’ll have the chance to do so when the pair is at Gilead Fest in four days, where they’ll have their newest issue available for purchase, if you’re lucky enough to be there, make sure to grab it. In the meantime however, read what the creators themselves have to say about their work.

Western Lamb: You guys run a two-man operation with the zine, do you each have respective, defined roles, or do you two take a more relaxed approach with it?
Patrick Loy: We generally have a relaxed, laid-back approach. All the layout stuff is done by Ed, as well as most of the communication. I am so damn flaky when it comes to checking the email account.
Ed: Most of it is fairly collaborative.  We work together on research and interview questions, which make up the bulk of the zine.  we both contribute reviews.  I’m responsible for layout, and distribution.

WL: I remember hearing that part of the reason you began BMotA was because of the way the New Yorker was covering it back in 2011. Why were you so dissatisfied with their coverage, and what did you want to do differently for yourselves?
ED: The New Yorker piece in question placed this really intense demarcation line between low art (most metal) and high art (black metal like Krallice and Liturgy).  There’s a line in that article about a Liturgy piece reminding the author of Steve Reich, and that was the moment when black metal made sense to him, and I just got so annoyed by it.  I’m not any kind of genre purist, but it seemed like such a stupid reason to validate a scene, especially when American black metal was so much more than those three bands. I honestly don’t remember the entire genesis of the zine, but Patrick and I have been friends for a long time, and we’ve wanted to work together on something for awhile.  There’s a journal filled with notes for a poorly conceived Borges-ian multi-media piece involving EVP, number stations, and a lot of Lovecraftian overtones.  Luckily, instead of that, we did Black Metal of the Americas.
PL: I personally wasn’t as incensed as Ed was. How got involved was that Ed had asked me “Hey, you wanna write a black metal zine with me?” and I responded, “Sure!” Not the most auspicious or even interesting of beginnings, but that’s pretty much how it got started. One of the things we had set out to do, was to basically highlight some great bands that were overlooked in favor of the three same bands spewed out over and over again when it came to talking about USBM. There was also this need to record and capture, to make a kind of “time capsule” of this burgeoning scene.

WL: A lot of your interviews and articles seem to put a spotlight on bands that come from a very leftist side of politics and social issues. Obviously, this flies in the face of a lot of more traditional black metal band who, either out of ignorance, provocativeness or actual beliefs, tended towards the right. American black metal has generally had this pendulum start to swing to the other end of the spectrum, but has it been a goal of yours to highlight it? And if so, why?
ED:  I wouldn’t say it’s been a goal specifically?  We make an effort to interview people we believe are worthwhile and interesting.  We do try to present voices that aren’t represented in more mainstream metal publications.  The rest of the world seems eager enough to do so, but we will not interview or review bands with bigoted viewpoints.
PL: Certainly not in the beginning, or rather we talked about politically motivated stuff not being a focus for time being. It’s something we wanted to address in the future in some capacity; we just weren’t sure when or how. That is, if I’m remembering correctly. We both grew up with Punk and certainly a lot of USBM bands have as well, so naturally there were political/social issues being addressed that we felt comfortable aligning ourselves with. There was never an overriding sense to highlight this aspect, well at least on my end. Naturally these topics did come to the foreground when discussing motivations behind the music, lyrical content, etc.

WL: Black metal over here on our side of the pond has had controversy and controversial figures aplenty, and lots of need for listeners to sort out the art versus artist debate for themselves. When trying to curate this zine, how do you two tackle this issue?
ED: Generally, I feel like it’s not worth my breath to talk about jerks when there are so many great bands out there who don’t advocate bigoted bullshit.  There have been instances where I’ve been too frustrated by a situation, or the reaction to a situation where I’ve wanted to throw my two cents in, but generally, I’d rather focus on the positive.  I think it’s pretty impossible to separate the artist from the art, especially in a niche genre like this.  How can you say you don’t respect someone, and then hand them money at their merch table?  Just doesn’t make sense to me.
PL: We make a concerted effort in avoiding any bands with sketchy leanings/ties. Just because there are certain views out there we don’t care to align ourselves with. Also, there are plenty of bands around who don’t waste their time spewing bullshit.

WL: Six issues in (and working hard on your seventh from what I gather) what has changed for you guys in how you approach this? What in these zines keeps it exciting for you guys to come back to this genre and subject repeatedly?
ED: We work pretty independently now, as I think our interests have diverged.  I think we’ve also become a lot more confident in our work, and that’s led to a certain amount of comfort and trust in each other to proceed without always double-checking with the other.  I have faith in Patrick to cover/reach out to bands that are worth covering, and I feel he has the same faith in me.
I keep coming back to the zine because we are constantly discovering bands that demand my attention, bands using the familiar trappings of black metal to express something new, using black metal as a foundation for something new and fascinating.  I also dearly appreciate the network of friends that the zine has allowed us to build.
PL: In the beginning we usually had a casual chat about whom we wanted to interview and what albums we planned on reviewing, just to be sure there wasn’t any crossover. The last couple issues or so we’ve been contacting bands individually without the other person’s knowledge until after the fact. Sometimes to effect of much confusion for Ed, he does most of the communication as I said before. We also don’t go over what albums we are going to be reviewing anymore, Ed reviews a lot of micro label cassette tape type stuff now. I refuse to start purchasing/collecting another goddamn media format.
I guess what keeps us coming back are the different geographical scenes/faces/facets that keep popping up.

WL: You’ve interviewed such a wide swath of artists, everyone from Deafheaven to Book Of Sand and even Lonesummer. After so much time talking to bands and musicians about their art and black metal, is there a common thread you see running through them all?
ED: This a bit of a difficult question, since you’re asking us about a collection of artists we’ve curated, so it’s not really a question about USBM as a whole, but more about these bands that we were interested in.  I’m not sure I feel comfortable trying to cram them all into a narrative or a theme.  I think that’s something that maybe requires a bit of chronological distance?
PL: I would have to say dissatisfaction with the way the world as it stands today. There seems to be an overarching feeling of, not hopelessness but certainly helplessness. They seem to want to enact some kind of change but aren’t quite sure where to begin or if they have even been given the right tools to do so. There is a need in the end to retreat to this music that offers them solace from the modern world. Then again, I’m probably just projecting all this shit.

WL: The zine has been pretty instrumental as a companion to extreme metal over the years, Slayer Mag is intertwined with the history of Norwegian black metal, and Stephen O’Malley himself ran a black metal-centric zine back in his younger days. What about the format appealed to you guys when much more accessible blogging platforms are available?
ED: i think there’s more at stake with zines, and i like that.  with a blog, if it’s not something people want to read, you’re out some time and effort, but not much else.  maybe the cost of a domain name? with this, you have to invest more effort, actually copying, folding,stapling, mailing, etc.  that makes it feel more real to me, even though there’s not a huge difference between photocopied rants and screen-based rants. i also think comment sections are the worst invention of humanity.
PL: I have a very tenuous relationship with technology; I am by no means a technophobe or a Luddite. The shit never seems to do what I want it to do! Anyway, coming from Punk/DIY growing up, doing a zine seemed like a natural extension of that. Especially, since so much of modern USBM is a reflection of that aesthetic. It also felt more personal and tangible I suppose. I’ve never blogged before, I’m sure it’s not that difficult. Throwing shit onto a copier is incredibly simple though.

WL: As two (very obvious) fans of of American black metal who are contributing to it as it grows, which USBM record sticks out the most for you? It’s such a fractured assortment of sounds and bands to pull from, but is there one that has stayed with you more than the others?
ED: “Two Hunters” by Wolves in the Throne Room will always be a very important record to me.
PL: I’m going to be the most obvious one and say Weakling’s Dead As Dreams; it is absolutely ground zero for modern day USBM. It will be fifteen years next year since that record came out and I still hear echoes of it from just about every USBM coming down the pipeline. It was the second black metal record I bought after the band got a mention in a review of the then new John Zorn (Moonchild) record back in 06’. I was like “San Francisco black metal? Wait, what?” Even after I bought that record I didn’t know there were other USBM bands, or that there have bands since the early 90’s. Although there have been a bunch of brilliant USBM albums none before or even after that record has had the same type of sustained vision and imagination.  It really was the first USBM to reach out from its respective genre and just become great fucking music in general. Okay, I’m going to shut the fuck up about this topic now, as I’m getting way too hyperbolic.

WL: BMotA is going to be at the second Gilead Fest very soon. What acts are you most looking forward to seeing translated live? Does the kinetic power of a live black metal show still work for you in the stripped down, barebones American version, sans corpsepaint and theatrics?
PL: Since we were at the last Gilead Fest, we’ve actually seen a large part of the lineup. That being said, just about every band on lineup is great or at the very least, solid. It also helps living in Chicago that there is this healthy Metal scene, so a lot of the bands usually come through at least once. Some come through a few times (Thou/The Body), not complaining as both those bands are faves. So I’m really excited to see that collaboration set. It’s safe to say that we are both super pumped about seeing Hexer, we both really enjoyed their record. If that new Bastard Sapling track is any indication, their new record is going to be tremendous, so I am definitely looking forward to seeing them. Being a fan of Blake Green and associated projects (Pussygutt/Aelter), Wolvserpent is at the top of my list. False is dropping a double album later this year, so it would be great to hear some material off that. Also looking forward to see Sea of Bones, Kowloon Walled City, & Seidr. To answer your second question, I believe we both feel the less gimmicky your stage show is, the more honestly we’ll respond to your music. Getting up in front of a group of strangers inside a room to perform music that you wrote with a bunch of friends or whomever is theatrical enough.
ED: The best black metal show I’ve ever seen was the first time I saw Liturgy in a smoke-filled (like, tobacco field on fire smoke-filled) warehouse.  It felt like sticking my head in a waterfall and my hand in an electric socket, just this incredibly overwhelming sound, anchored by a drummer who was unbound by time.  I’d read about “the burst beat” at that point, and listened to their record, but watching him do that live was jaw-dropping.  It was incredible, and required no theatrics whatsoever. That is, I’m not against theatrics at all, they’re just not always needed to perform the genre. I’m really excited to see Hexer.  Those two tapes are killer, and after seeing some clips from their recent New York performance, I think they’re going to blow people away.

WL: Finally, is there anything more you’d like to see BMotA accomplish? And is there any commentary you’d like to provide on USBM as you two see it today?
PL: Hopefully gain some connections in the Latin America scene, as there is this HUGE scene that we’ve been meaning to cover but for some reason or another just haven’t been able to. We do scratch the surface a little bit on the upcoming issue, but there’s definitely a ton more research/coverage to be done there.
I personally would like to see more bands getting really weird and fucking shit up. There are signs that stagnation is starting to set in and sometimes I feel like I’m listening to the same record over and over again. On the positive side, we are slowly seeing more underrepresented groups being involved and participating. There is a definite correlation between the two; more diversity equals less stagnation. A simple equation that even I can understand.
ED: We’ve already achieved more than we ever thought this would turn into.  Much thanks are owned to everyone who’s supported us, all the bands that took time to answer our questions, our readers, and so on. I’m not sure what’s next for us, but I am excited about it.
As for any final thoughts about the STATE OF THE BLACK METAL SCENE: I think it’s really exciting to be writing about American black metal right now.  I think there’s a lot of great bands doing their strongest work, continuing to push the definition of what black metal can be.  I think we’re starting to see people talk metal seriously enough to talk about some of the retrograde bullshit that’s still present in our society, and how that manifests in our subculture.  I think we’re starting to see the death of the elitist underground which is long overdue.  Fuck snobby bullshit, fuck your record collection, music should be for everyone.
Thank you for taking the time to create this interview, it’s much appreciated.

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YELLOW EYES INTERVIEW

Yellow Eyes formed in 2010 and usually, just four years into their career, this would relegate a band to “newcomer” status, instead however, they have proven themselves through a catalogue that is modest in quantity, but masterful in quality. Two albums in, and it seems as though they’re just started to hone their approach of truly immersive, In 2011, they quietly let their first album “Silence Threads the Evening’s Cloth” into the world without fanfare, available as pay-what-you-want download from bandcamp, it found itself in a black metal maelstrom. 2011 was a year that saw American black metal explode; Deafheaven released “Roads to Judah”, Ash Borer’s first full length came out, and Liturgy along with their manifesto caused a shitstorm online with “Aesthetica”.
Amid it all, Yellow Eyes worked hard and worried little over the circumstances surrounding them. Despite the notoriety “Brooklyn black metal” built for itself, they easily sidestepped the suspicion of such connotations with songs that Kim Kelly described as “uniquely American in conception, but European in execution”.
Vocalist and guitarist Will Skarstad was kind enough to take the time to talk with me about how he approaches black metal, handles a band operating on its own agenda, and what it is that Yellow Eyes embodies.

WESTERN LAMB: You started the band after quickly moving on from your former project Diminishing Light. What was the reason for starting fresh with Yellow Eyes?
WILL SKARSTAD: I finished Inherited By Earth (the only Diminishing Light release aside from a 5-way split) a couple days before moving the the Czech Republic. I was there for a year with very limited recording capabilities, and I guess a limited desire to work on new material. My time was spent at metal clubs on the outskirts of town where I would get to see some great Eastern European black metal. I was there with my brother (the other Yellow Eyes guitarist). A combination of a refining musical taste and a decision to work with my brother on something new shifted my concentration away from Diminishing Light. As soon as we got back to the States we started formulating ideas for Yellow Eyes.

WL: Yellow Eyes has spread mainly through the traditional method of word-of-mouth, it wasn’t till the second full length that you guys saw some significant exposure in press outlets. Why do you think you spent the first couple years flying under the radar while other “Brooklyn” bands shot to a quick stint in the spotlight?
WS: Before Yellow Eyes I had never played music with anyone. I had no idea how to get people to listen to my music. It wasn’t anything I had given any real thought to. We started Yellow Eyes with no expectations at all. We were living in a cramped apartment in Brooklyn with the guy who ended up being our drummer. Once we started writing music together we realized that we were very compatible. The riffs came easily and quickly, and soon we had enough material to justify recording something. We did that ourselves in our little practice space, again without any thought of anything coming from it. I don’t think we had ever even considered playing live at that point. We posted Silence Threads The Evening’s Cloth to a Myspace account and were surprised to see a bunch of Russian sites posting download links to it soon after (I’m still not sure how they found it). Eventually, and mainly on its own accord, Silence Threads made its way to various small blogs over here. We were not very proactive about anything. Sol Y Nieve released the tape, which helped raise some awareness of our existence. There were similar circumstances with the Monument split. I guess we were at the right place at the right time when we released Hammer Of Night. We had a Bandcamp page and played live every now and then so we were a bit more accessible due to the natural progression of things. We had had some major highlights, like playing live on WFMU’s My Castle Of Quiet (the best metal radio show in the world in my opinion), but it wasn’t until some writers for larger sites stumbled upon Hammer Of Night that things changed noticeably. We had (and have) no one doing PR for us or anything like that. It’s just us. I assume other bands are far more business savvy, or at least have more of a desire to self-promote. We were very much inspired by those shows in Prague where we felt we witnessed something mysterious and unsung. If we could be a band that very few people felt very intensely about, then that would be enough for us to consider it a true success.

WL: The music of Yellow Eyes has some similar characteristics to other American black metal bands, but as Kim Kelly has described before, there seems to be a more traditional approach in your songs. Is this an approach you actively work at, or is it merely a result of your writing style? Do you feel a particular kindred with one form or group of black metal over another?
WS: I’ve always felt a draw to more traditional black metal. Darkthrone and Ulver were early loves of mine, so unsurprisingly they were influences on my music. Despite early assumptions that Yellow Eyes was inspired by Liturgy and Krallice, I never really listened to much of that (although I do love Krallice). When we started the band I was primarily listening to Old Wainds, Moloch, Drudkh, stuff like that. I love Eastern European and Russian music. If anything, I feel a kindred with that part of the world. My girlfriend is Russian so I’ve spent a lot of time in her town in Siberia. I love it there, and I love any kind of music that can make me feel like I’m there. I think I probably set out to make much more traditional songs than the end result reveals. I can listen to endless amounts of the traditional stuff, but when I sit down to write I find my process to be mainly about not getting bored. I guess the aim is for something more traditional, the product a bit less so.

WL: They lyrics in Yellow Eyes songs have always been a little more refined and subversive than most others in the genre. What are the inspirations that lie behind the words? The imagery is almost hallucinatory, written in a literary way. From the forest scenes to a desert setting, what drives the concepts of the band?
WS: Sam writes the lyrics, so I’ll turn it over to him for a second:
Even without lyrics, our songs are sort of hallucinatory, so when I sit down to write lyrics I just try to imagine a situation that describes what I’m hearing. For example, there’s a song on our new EP that felt to me like standing on the second floor of a big house, looking out a window at a rainy forest. That was the first (and very general) impression. So I worked on trying to pinpoint it exactly, and gradually it became looking through that window at a man standing by a gate at the edge of the forest. He is waiting for his turn in the house, and every day he calls out to me, asking how much longer I’m going to live. He becomes an annoyance, so I have a mixture of crushed leaves and spit brought out to him and smeared on his face. Each song has a different story, but the process is usually the same.

WL: What was it about black metal that pulled you into its sphere? What elements of it appeal to your personality and made you want to communicate your art through it?
WS: I felt a connection the first time I heard it. I hadn’t ever experienced anything quite like it. I remember wanting to share it with everyone I knew; I felt like I had unearthed something very precious. But it quickly became clear that not everyone was interested. In fact, at the time no one else around me was. It’s always been a very personal thing. I fall asleep to it, wake up to it. It comforts me deeply. I never took myself very seriously as an artist or a musician and still don’t. I like playing the guitar and I like black metal. I never gave the process much conscious thought. I prefer sitting alone in my room writing riffs to doing pretty much anything else. My “art” is something that I would be creating regardless of it being considered art, or even worthy of human consumption. It is nice to know people get something out of it, though.

WL: You compiled a list of USBM artists for Metalsucks early this year, and you ran the gamut from up-and-comers Vattnet Viskar, to classic’s like Lurker of Chalice. As you yourself are an artist operating in this fray, do you feel there is a unifying thread throughout the many different styles and subgenre’s of USBM? How do you see Yellow Eyes fitting amongst such a broad grouping?
WS: I’m not sure I see USBM as being unified by anything other than location. That’s what I like about it, though; it can all be so unique. I mean, that Metalsucks list is a good example of how broad the spectrum can be. I haven’t spent any time considering how we fit in, but I am proud to be considered a contributing member of the NYC black metal “scene” alongside bands like Krallice, Vorde, Anicon, Vilkacis etc. It’s definitely validating to have people come out to shows that are into the music.

WL: Why do you believe America has seen such a startling uptick in its black metal since 2010?
WS: I have no clue. I guess it’s just become more popular as a genre. I don’t mind that if it means more great music will exist. I like to think that rabidly loyal fans of black metal are able to sniff out anyone who makes this kind of music dishonestly.

WL: Yellow Eyes evolution over the past four releases has been a gradual one, as you began with a fairly fully formed sound. As musicians, where do you see this pathway taking you next?
WS: We’re working on a new EP for New Jersey based Prison Tatt Records. There’s also a split with Vilkacis in the works. We will continue to put out records. We’d like to branch out of the tri-state area for some shows eventually. Musically, we just try to make the best albums we can. I’m a pretty limited musician. I’m a black metal guy. My brother, on the other hand, has played in a pretty eclectic range of bands. It’s the union of a purist and a experimentalist that has defined our sound thus far, and hopefully will maintain that sound for years to come.

WL: With any Yellow Eyes release, what is the overarching concept you want to impart? While you may create the music for yourselves, what is one thing you want the observer to be left with when experiencing your art?
WS: We’re drawn to the type of art that doesn’t answer any questions. I would hope that people consider our music that way.

Grst is a strange band to discuss, because they have hardly anything to be written about; there’s currently a mere three songs to their credit, two of which they didn’t even write. Despite their catalog’s extreme brevity, they’ve already showed themselves to be a group with something significant to give back to the USBM that they take from. A positive review from the discerning Black Metal and Brews, a Pitchfork nod, and a name drop within Stereogum’s write up of the new Wolves In the Throne Room track has them well positioned to become something of a buzz band, but in the meantime, they’re studiously working on their craft and paying attention to the sounds that have helped to shape their own. Case in point, they offered up a two song EP in March, covering the first two tracks from Weakling’s renowned “Dead As Dreams”. Titled Fire Therein, Grst made a powerful tribute to a powerful album, and I asked Josh Vincent about the band’s motivation and inspiration in creating it.

Western Lamb: You’ve only ever recorded a single song before this release, why did you opt to go the covers route instead of showcasing your own material this early on?
GRST: We recorded the Weakling tracks last summer at the same time that we were recording original songs for our forthcoming album. The initial thought was that we would include them as a bonus on the record. Unfortunately, that would have resulted in a much longer album than would work with the single LP format to which we were limited. Weakling’s songs are so long, and the content so strong, that it made better sense to put the covers out there on their own. We released them first because the rest of the album is being pressed to vinyl and won’t be ready for another several weeks.

WL: I found it interesting that you chose to cover two songs that are so dense and challenging in the first place, it doesn’t offer an easy chance to “put your own stamp on it” as a lot of artists like to do with covers. Why these two?
GRST: Weakling’s music is full of so many odd details. After years of listening to that record and coming back to it again and again, I developed an urge to study the songs more deeply. To our knowledge, there is no available technical information about the content of those songs (lyrics, tablatures, etc.), so we compared the Dead as Dreams album with the live rehearsals and deciphered the parts as best we could. Putting our own stamp on it was less important than engaging with the material and getting it as close as possible to the original.
We chose these two particular songs because, for us, they contain some of the most quintessential passages from the original record. Of special note are the labyrinthine harmonizing guitars that appear after the opening section of Dead as Dreams, and the complete melodic chaos that erupts about a third of the way through Cut Their Grain and Place Fire Therein. These parts are favorites.

WL: How did you decide what to do vocally, since even John Gossard himself never wrote his lyrics down?
GRST:
Kenneth probably had the most difficult job of all. He devised the lyrical content by extrapolating themes from the song titles and then phrased his language so that it corresponded in key spots with the cadences in Gossard’s original performance. Not an easy task.
It’s funny…much like with Weakling’s versions, I am mostly ignorant of what Kenneth’s lyrics are. He did not fully disclose them during the process, nor was he asked to.

WL: What does Weakling’s Dead As Dreams mean to you as a whole? What does that album mean to you as a band?
GRST: It clearly ranks among my top albums. For a while after I first heard it, Dead as Dreams functioned as a kind of measuring tool for me, something that I compared other records to in order to gauge how much I liked them. Admittedly, that isn’t a fair or a healthy way to interface with music.
It’s difficult to answer as a band. I can say confidently that Dead as Dreams is a beloved album for Kenneth and Nathanael as well, but ultimately Grst isn’t modeled after any particular influence. That said, Grst certainly owes the same debt to Weakling that all other USBM artists arguably do. The tribute EP is an acknowledgement of that, but it was also something that we did for the enjoyment and the challenge.

WL: We’re about fourteen years removed from Dead As Dreams, and on a more broader note, what do you think the album had done for American black metal as a whole?
GRST: It undoubtedly set a musical high bar for the genre. It also widened the possibilities for this kind of music in the US by demonstrating that a band did not need to come from Europe, or rely solely upon evoking the standard conventions within the black metal genre, in order to create totally devastating music.

Grst Promo Poster copy

WL: As a follow up to you mentioning your own full length, what did GRST set out to achieve for yourselves with that material? A debut following Weakling material is stepping into some big shoes, how did you approach that challenge?
GRST: At this point, the main goal for the Plague Seed album is simply for it to exist. I say that because it’s a project that was set aside for a relatively long time. Nearly all of the material on this record was written and demoed as a solo project back in 2009 right before I became extremely busy with several other projects (LORD, Aeolus, Banewreaker). There wasn’t time or energy to advance the Grst project along with everything else, so the music sat unused for five years. An opportunity presented itself to revive Grst last summer with additional personnel who were very supportive, so we re-recorded the material and included a few new elements. It was enjoyable.
The most gratifying thing now will be developing new stuff and working with material that isn’t five years old. That process has already begun.
As for how Plague Seed will measure up against Fire Therein…I think they are two very different entries and that the songs are not readily comparable, except perhaps in length. For example, much of the music on Plague Seed was originally written so that it could be performed live by two or three people with a minimal technical setup – a drummer and a guitarist/vocalist, maybe a bassist – so the instrumentation for the songs is fairly simple. There are fewer riffs, and a lot of progressive chordplay…a strategy I hoped would maximize the amount of note relationships and sound that a single instrument player could produce simultaneously. We didn’t really embellish the songs or add parts just to record the album, so the versions you’ll hear are mostly as they were written right after I moved to Oregon in 2009. The result is that Plague Seed is fairly straightforward, northwestern black metal. Anyone into that should enjoy it. Anyone looking for a record that sounds like Weakling will probably not be impressed…although we are producing a limited edition cassette version of Fire Therein, so that will be available soon.
We were aiming for a release date in late June, but there have been production delays so it will most likely be later than that. Once they’re ready, the Plague Seed vinyl and Fire Therein cassette will be available via Glossolalia Records and directly from Grst.

Listening to Woe’s Quietly, Undramatically for the first time back in 2010 (indeed, I was late to the party) I was struck by how much of the original spirit of black metal I felt in the music. It came across as sincerely aggressive, contemplative, and resoundingly defiant. Chris Grigg, who has molded Woe since 2007 until its present form today, wrote songs that struck a balance between the furious drive of traditional black metal, and being unblinkingly direct emotionally. There was no posturing, the blastbeats and wall of sound riffs weren’t disguising someone afraid of being himself; Chris came at black metal from no angle, and played up to no gimmick in the face of a genre built on disguising itself.
In short, it was about the music for him. That shone through on Woe’s records and especially on the song “Hatred Is Our Heart”, the closer from the second album. It was a ferocious tirade against bands who hid behind black metal’s tradition as a way to obscure uninspired and derivative art, it made an impact on the way I thought about the entire genre back then, and it’s still a song I reflect on today as integral to how I understand the music I love. Chris was kind enough to talk to me about that song, about his own approach to black metal and how he continues to work with it despite Woe evolving far past his original vision.

Western Lamb: In a lot of ways, Woe is an archetypal American black metal band; you began as a one-man project, and really built yourself from the ground up, releasing a demo and two splits in the first year. What was the catalyst for this early material you were scraping together on your own?
Chris Grigg: It was a combination of things. There was some frustration at the whole band experience and disinterest in compromising a vision for other people; there was a need to try my hand at contributing to the black metal scene that I appreciated so much; there was this drive to just create something. I love raw black metal’s DIY attitude, I really connected to it.

WL: Now, about seven years removed from when you began Woe, how do you think you’ve grown? Personally and musically, what have you seen yourself evolve into?
CG: I’ve evolved into something a bit less rigid and less interested in sticking to the strict black metal orthodoxies, more focused on creating the music that I and my collaborators want to hear. Black metal has lost a lot of the magic for me, so I guess you could say I’m a bit jaded. I just want to make music that feels powerful to hear and perform and I realize that I’m not going to “light a fire against god” or anything really dramatic. I’m also way more interested in the full band experience: rehearsing, writing with others, trying new ideas, and most of all touring.

WL: The song “Hatred Is Our Hearts” has always been an incredibly important song to me. It comes across as very anthemic, and also seems to stand for a lot of what American black metal embodies. What was your hope in writing a song so critical of many black metal customs? Was it for yourself, or were you hoping to inspire others to move beyond the genre’s constraints?
CG: That’s really cool, I’m glad to hear that. I always write for myself first but that song more than most others was also an attempt to make a statement. By the time we finished that album, I was really frustrated with the black metal underground. So much of it is a giant circle-jerk, a social scene more than a music scene, and bands and fans seem to want the same shit over and over again. It seems antithetical to what I always associated with black metal’s adversarial, subversive spirit. That’s what “Hatred Is Our Heart” is all about. It makes the statement that we’re not in it to win fans, we’re in it because it is who we are. Jaded as I may be, I still think it’s true.

WL: Despite what you feel about a lot of “traditional” black metal nowadays, how do you feel about the original wave of bands? Do their early efforts that jump-started it all still hold up to you as relevant, or has black metal moved beyond that?
CG: The original bands are still without equals, by and large. I’m more likely to listen to the first few Bathory albums or In the Nightside Eclipse than just about anything that’s new. For me, they’re still relevant, but it could be argued that my concept of black metal hasn’t really evolved, so maybe I’m part of the problem? My idea of progress in 2014 is finding ways to combine the old black metal sound with outside elements, but that isn’t really helping black metal evolve, it’s really just… augmenting it, in a sense. I’ve given up on the idea of a unified black metal sound, so individuals can only say whether black metal has moved beyond the classics for themselves. For me, black metal hasn’t changed, but my willingness to step outside of black metal to find inspiration has.

WL: You’ve worked with some exceptionally talented people within the realm of American black metal, Colin Marston of Krallice, and you’ve drummed for Neill Jameson’s long-running project Krieg. What’s it like to work with individuals of this magnitude? Is there a sense of fellowship as you all (mostly) work within the same musical context? Or is the sense of individualism prevalent despite the collaborating?
CG: My favorite thing about both Neill and Colin is that neither of them have any kind of air about them. If they think of themselves as “individuals of magnitude,” you certainly don’t know it. They’re both great guys. I don’t know if I’d say there’s a sense of fellowship for the reason you stated… We’re all just dudes who have a lot of mutual friends and some common interests. The metal scene is full of different types of people, some of whom get into that whole “brothers of metal” thing, but I go the other way. I think I tend to work with people whose compulsion to create is tied directly to the belief that an individual can create something from nothing. My favorite collaborations have been with people who are like-minded in that sense, people who think, “I don’t need you but we are all better when we don’t need each other… together.”

WL: Back in 2011, you penned an open letter to Hunter Hunt Hendrix of Liturgy. At the time, a lot of people were up in arms, and in retrospect, it seems really silly, especially considering how quiet Liturgy has fallen since. Out of all the mudslinging though, you were the only one that seemed to counter Hendrix’s ideas with a level headed response based both in common sense, and a real love for this music; you even went so far as to say he was making American black metal look bad. What was it that prompted you to go out of your way in defense of USBM?
CG: There was an intense amount of shit-talking on Hunger, his band, and his “manifesto” back in 2011. Everyone wanted to talk about it, everyone wanted to joke about it, but nobody wanted to be mature and direct and confront it head-on. It needed to be said, somebody needed to offer a rebuttal, not just to him but to his supporters. There’s still a lot to say about it but I think I need to keep my mouth shut at this point, I’ve already said enough.

WL: You really took it upon yourself to pour a lot into the lyrics on Woe’s last full-length, Withdrawal. You’ve said before that if you’re going to scream about something, you’re going to scream about something that matters to you, and the words did indeed come across as something profoundly personal. Why do you think a lot of black metal songwriters are afraid to take that leap beyond the usual tropes and be a little more vulnerable with their art? What do you get out of being so immediate with your own words?
CG: I think that orthodox black metal is really afraid of being human. The fake names, costumes, metaphysical themes, and screamed lyrics that typically require lyric sheets to be understood act as barriers between the artists and audience. I wrote this (kind of crappy) acoustic demo and did a show back in 2012 and what really blew me away was how much more difficult it was to sit on stage with one acoustic guitar and actually sing than it was to be on stage, backed by a wall of sound, and shriek into a microphone. That intimacy is terrifying, you feel so exposed and vulnerable in a way that metal bands, especially metal bands, never have to deal with. If you read a lot of interviews with black metal artists, you see a lot of discussion about big ideas and a lot of posturing, but very little discussion about the real human experience. It’s difficult to really put yourself out there. Don’t get me wrong, I love black metal’s traditions and I don’t think that all of the things that I listed as barriers between artist and audience exist only because people are afraid to be vulnerable. I’m just saying that it can act as a convenient reason to never step outside your boundaries.
What do I get out of it? It’s therapeutic. I don’t have to feel like the person who writes the songs and plays live is different from the person who goes to work and posts bullshit on the internet. It lets me be honest about who I am, what I do, how I feel about myself and the world around me.

WL: What is it about black metal that continues to pull you in? What qualities does it hold that allow you to communicate through it?
CG: There’s an intensity to it that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. In the past few years, I’ve written a lot of music that I didn’t use for Woe. I really tried to get away from it a few times. There’s the acoustic demo I mentioned earlier, there were a few goth/dreampop demos, and random little things here and there. None of it feels as compelling, none of it has the explosive, percussive propulsion of black metal. (Grindcore comes close, to be honest.)

WL: And finally, what American black metal record has stuck with you the most over the years?
CG: Leviathan’s Massive Conspiracy Against All Life. I don’t think there has ever been or will ever be a better American black metal album. Jef’s song structures, riffs, melodies, and that drum performance were beyond reproach on this record. I know it’s not most people’s favorite Leviathan album but it really clicked with me, I listen to it very frequently.

BLACK MONOLITH – PASSENGER (Review)

black monolith album
Listening to Black Monolith’s second effort shows a truly remarkable amount of growth from their initial three song demo. The 2011 demo showed a venomous blackened attack with it’s foundation based largely in the punk camp, a short burst of vitriol that lasted only eleven minutes. This time around, the band has massively broadened its scope, the monochromatic mental images conjured up before have been replaced with a wide range of colour.
A caustic noise track sets the stage on Intro/Void, its harsh texture is a gateway denying the listener an easy listen, and the rest of the album follows suit. Hooky riffs and leads give way to charging punk sections, the music is drastically varied, never allowing for one to get comfortable with what they’re hearing. Over the course of 40 minutes, the shifting nature of the songs remains the only constant.
Sometimes the way Black Monolith straddle the line between their influences pays off, and what comes out of those moments is an energetic blend of energetic blackened hardcore mixed with spacious, atmospheric elements, dotted by ripping guitar leads. Unfortunately however, the balance gets lost more than once, and sections within tracks are left feeling disjointed, even full songs sometimes don’t seem to work comfortably. Some material from the demo (the driving Dead Hand) is carried onto Passenger and left to sit in the company of newer numbers, most jarringly the closer, Eris. While both tracks are able to hold their own in terms of songwriting, they feel too different to coexist comfortably on the same record, Dead Hand’s loose, punkish hammering doesn’t match the weighty atmosphere and soaring climax of Eris. The elegant guitar lead two thirds of the way through Gold Watch appears after five minutes of sneering riffs. Both clearly come from the same place, they’re both well written and well executed, but where they miss their mark is in bridging their differences, and it’s this disjointed sensation that prevents a good album with great songs, from just wholly being a great album.
George Clarke (of Deafheaven fame) and his new label, All Black Recording Company, choose Passenger to be what they broke ground with, and that speaks volumes. While Deafheaven struck gold with a more palatable atmospheric sound, Clarke gives the crusty underbelly of American black metal a chance to crawl out and is greeted with an effort that meets him halfway.
Black Monolith didn’t write the album of the year, but they did write a triumphant collection of songs that showcase a band spreading its wings, ballooning in quality since we last heard from them. I’m certain the next release will continue this.

 

A Pregnant Light, 12 releases deep after barely three years, have moved relentlessly after their own sound. The prolific catalog,  old movie starlets on the covers, extremely limited cassette runs and the tag “purple metal” all make up what has quickly become a profoundly original and divisive band. Initially shrouded in anonymity, the single man behind it all, Damian Master, has come forth since the release of APL’s breakthrough release Domination Harmony. He has a myriad of other projects to his name, but what is remarkable about his work in A Pregnant Light is that he has managed to straddle the line between an uncompromising, visionary sound and songs that are listenable and emotionally engaging. Damian was kind enough to sit down with me for some questions about what goes into creating A Pregnant Light, and how APL’s singular approach correlates to black metal.


Western Lamb
When you started A Pregnant Light, you had it tagged, (to an extent) as black metal. What were the qualities in black metal that made you want to communicate something as personal as APL through it?
Damian Master: You know, I’ve always played music in a group situation. And I’ve always wanted to do something solo- and I’m not going to pretend like black metal is my one and only love, I have so many genres of music that I love. It basically allowed me to express myself in that. Because if you were to play in a punk band or a hardcore band, and it was a solo thing, people would not understand it. How does that work, you know? Godflesh kinda got away with it as a metal band, but everyone else who does it looks stupid.
But the thing that attracted me to black metal was that obviously it was atmospheric. It was, at the time when I started listening to it in 1996, right around when Vempire by Cradle of Filth came out;  unique. It was different, it was cold and exciting but still rock-based and it had this air of mystery to it. I mean, the mystery is what drew me in; it quickly pissed me off, but it for sure drew me in. To me, it’s the perfect mix of all rock music.
I know it sounds like I’m saying this because it sounds like APL, but you can incorporate anything into it and it makes sense. If you do it right.

WLInteresting you say that about the mystery, because for a while you wanted APL to have that kind of mystery too. You tried to keep it fairly anonymous, you went by a pseudonym- if it pissed you off so much, why were you eager to at first try and work within that?
DM: Well again, I will say that I’m writing a column for Lurker’s Path, and that’s the first topic, about mystery in music. I don’t know, as of five years ago, it sort of became like when you see a ‘77 punk in ‘84. It’s like “Yeah man, that’s cool. You’re a little throwback and we’re doing something else now, you kinda look like a fucking dinosaur.” And to me, especially with the internet, it just became that everyone can be whatever they want to be. All you have to do is post about it on your facebook, or blog about it or tweet about it and say you’re into it. And then everyone knows everything, because there’s this endless stream of information. The mystery thing became so corny and stupid. If you use a fake name, everyone’s done that, it’s not unique to black metal. It became so overwrought that I couldn’t handle it anymore. It’s disgusting.
All of my favourite black metal bands are very open about who they are. They still work within those confines; they still have a ‘stage’ name, maybe they wear spikes and corpsepaint you know? Like the dudes in Nifelheim, hands down my favourite living black metal band.

WLI wanted to ask you about Liturgical Invocations off of The Feast Of Clipped Wings. It’s a short, quick track, but why was it the one you chose to introduce the world to APL?
DM: It’s kind of interesting, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the project yet, not really sure what kind of influences I wanted to incorporate. And if you notice, that demo, which no one’s brought up before, was the first to have electronics, on the intro and outro, which is something I decided to try and stray away from. I like intros because they set the stage for something. It’s not like the rest of the music at all, I like music that hits right out of the gate. The new Secret Creation demo is just blasting, there’s no warm up, it’s like running into a buzz saw. I love that, and I love when things introduce themselves a little bit. [Liturgical Invocations] was purely an introduction, I don’t think you should read into it too much. It shows a little bit what headspace I was in, but the track itself was more to make people go “Okay, I’m listening to something different now.” As opposed to when you’re listening to a bunch of metal in your iTunes or whatever and something else pops up, you know? It just all blends together.

WLThis was touched on a little in the interview you did with Invisible Oranges, you yourself called it a driving force in your music. The theme of sexuality, what is it about this that drives APL?
DM: I mean, it’s a base human emotion. I remember I had a friend who was talking about his relationship, and he said “I have three ‘H’s that I never want to be. I never want to be hot, hungry, or horny.” Those are three basic human emotions, you know? I don’t like being hot and sweaty, and who wants to be hungry? I need to be comfortable, I need to be fed, and I need to release sexual energy. I mean, I’m a heterosexual male, and it is what it is. But that’s a really strong emotion, and that ties into love, it ties into the way you deal with people.
So much of our culture is driven by sexuality. It’s the reason why models are beautiful people, beautiful people sell products. It doesn’t matter what it is, it could be a bag of carrots at the grocery store or eyeliner, you have to be beautiful to sell it and the beauty ties into sexuality. You can appreciate something beautiful for what it is, but I think for most people it ties into that sexual urge. And I didn’t see a lot of that in black metal, so I wanted to try and explore that because it’s something that super interests me and is something that’s a driving force in my life and my art. I wanted to make that part of the band.
The thing about APL is that it will probably be my life’s work. Even though if I could just be in a beatdown hardcore band for the rest of my life, and just play guitar in Crown of Thornz and never make another APL record again, or if I could be straightedge and join some band on React Records, I would do that, I love that stuff. But this is my life’s work and this is what consumes me and directs everything I do, so I have to go with the path that makes sense to me. And that’s where I’m coming from, the heavy lifting happens in my mind and it just filters out through APL.

WLPeople have talked about the sexuality theme a couple times already, and it seems like there’s a bit of a religious element that comes through here and there. You mentioned in an earlier interview with Lurker’s Path the passage in the bible that claims the world will be destroyed with fire. The pseudonym you initially adopted, “Maranatha” even translates to “Our Lord has come”
DM: Yeah, “Come Lord Jesus”

WLAnd even as early as the first demo, you had song titles that featured words like liturgical, temple and heaven. It seems like there’s a more subtle connection to religion that’s been worked into it all, could you elaborate on that connection?
DM: It’s all about religion man! I am not a satanist, I believe in the devil, I believe in Lucifer as a being and I do not fuck with that. It’s a source of negativity, it’s a source of destruction. It’s not positive and it’s not good. I believe in God, I believe there’s a good and evil. I truly believe that.
I believe God exists, and I believe that Satan exists, and it’s funny, cause I’m sitting here like “I got a Nifelheim tattoo” and I’ve been super into Satanic Warmaster lately. I mean of course satanic music is awesome. It’s fucking super cool, you know? I love it! I also love christian music, good music is good music. But in my personal life, I’m not going to carve a baphomet into my arm and pretend like I’m dealing with something I don’t know about. I’m a very religious person. But I’m the kind of religious person that pisses off religious people, I mean, if I self identify as a Christian they’re like “oh no, you’re not part of us.” and I’m like “I don’t know man, don’t we all believe in the same thing?”
It’s funny to me. But religion drives it all, absolutely, it’s a total source of positivity.

WLThe last thing I wanted to touch on conceptually was obviously purple. You’ve mentioned “the purple youth” in your lyrics, and “the purple light” has come up numerous times. You even call what you do “purple metal”. So why purple for A Pregnant Light?
DM: Well if you want me to be completely honest with you, I grew up in Manhattan, Kansas, which is where Kansas State University is, and their logo is the wildcats, and their colour is purple. And that’s where it started, I grew up in a town where everyone wore purple; it was a source of pride. The main street in the city was called Poyntz, and during football games there was The Purple Powerplay On Poyntz and the whole town was decked out in purple; it was this symbol of pride, and power and unity. You’d see someone walking around wearing a purple sweatshirt; “cool man, supporting the hometeam.” It was this unifying factor.
My father graduated from that college, so purple, initially, was built in my mind as a kid as this powerful, unifying thing. And the older I got, the more involved I was in punk rock and hardcore, I mean, let’s face it- this is all a men’s game, you know? It was black, it was white, it was red, it was dark blues, and greys but I had this really strong connection to purple. Purple became associated with femininity. I mean, the word “pregnant” is in my band name, how much more referential to female can you get? It’s this thing that I can never be; pregnant. It just fit with the purple, it became this rich, gorgeous, beautiful thing in my mind- this embrace of the powerful and the feminine.
You could say historically that purple was the colour of royalty from Lydia and places like that, but it just became a unifying factor in my mind and my heart. And honestly? I didn’t see anybody else doing it. Everyone else did high-contrast black and white art, and I love that. I think it’s such a good look, but for me it was disingenuous. I wanted to go with something that expressed what I was.
I don’t ever do anything to be unique. That sucks. I always use the example of Frank Zappa. Frank Zappa was totally unique, nothing else sounds like him, and it’s garbage, it’s absolutely unlistenable. Fuck Frank Zappa. That guy sucks, I wish that he didn’t have so much music. But he was just trying to do something unique and original, and he succeeded and it sucked.
I would much rather adhere to “the program” and work with quality in that program. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense, because everyone praises APL for being unique, but I’m just painting with a different set of brushes. To use that analogy, people go to the art store if they’re going to paint black metal, and they pick black paint and this brush, because it’s your black metal toolkit. But you can do it with anything, and there’s a lot of brushes this way, there’s a lot of paint that way. You can get anything done within the confines of this aisle of “art supplies”. But people go to what’s easy and what they know and I just decided to go with what I wanted to do.

WLWanted to touch on St. Emaciation. I think you yourself said it was one of the most important APL recordings?
DM: It’s the best.

WL: Okay! So what was your mindset going into that time, what made it the best? Why do these two songs mean so much to you?
DM: Here’s the thing about St. Emaciation, it was the only time to date where I’ve sat down with an idea and said “this is what I want to do, this is the sound I’m going for.” Because that has a really particular sound to it, it doesn’t really sound like anything else. It was the only time I wrote these things and recorded them exactly the way that I wanted.
Nine times out of ten, when you talk to a band or an artist, they say that you reach a certain point and you just have to walk away. That’s the way it felt about these two latest tracks, not to take away from them, but with Ringfinger and Lilajugend there was so much more I wanted to do, but it was just time to stop, walk away and move on to the next thing. St. Emaciation was the complete execution of what I wanted to get done, that being said, it was also a failure in the fact that I really wanted to have it Lungfish-inspired. I wanted it to have this circular, repetitive riffing and that obviously didn’t happen. I think the beginning of Fertility Cult that starts off with the clean guitar where it does that harmonic part, I think that’s the coolest shit I’ve ever written. That sounds like music I would play. I show it to friends and they say “That sounds like a Damian riff.” and I can’t think of a higher compliment. It was just the perfect execution of every idea I wanted, I think it’s the best A Pregnant Light demo, and it’s my favourite A Pregnant Light demo.

WLAnother release that’s become something of a touchstone for APL is Domination Harmony. You, for lack of a better word, blew up at that point. You said you were writing a more streamlined kind of song, and when you released lyrics for the first time you said it was because “for now, the darkness has left”. What was it at that time that opened it all up for you?
DM: It’s gonna sound like some weird, mystical, magical shit but I met somehow who serves as a muse to me. But, I met this person the week that Domination Harmony came out and it was the first thing I shared with them as we were getting to know each other. They asked “What do you do?” and it was like “It’s kind of embarrassing but I play music for a living, here’s this thing that I do.” and they were blown away by it.
But why did I get away from it? I think it was my heart and mind preparing me for something different. I’m very conversational and very open, but also I’m very religious person; I very much believe in faith and fate and the power that they hold therein. I think that A Pregnant Light is something that’s meant to be serious in my life, if it’s the only thing that’s serious. And I think my heart and mind were preparing me for something much greater, so I had to break my own shackles to open myself up to a larger vessel and I think those songs allowed me to do that. It was great because they were really listenable, shorter in length and people responded well to them, so I took that as a sign that I was going in the right direction. I felt really happy about what those songs did and what they meant.
If you notice on [Before I Came], the whole thing is in reverse chronological order, but after the two new songs. It should be Stars Will Fall instead of Domination Harmony but I flipped those.
Every once in a while, stuff like St. Emaciation and Domination Harmony falls into your lap and you just have to go for it. And for that, I’m grateful to God or whomever provided me with the human creative spirit to find these things. Sometimes you just have to roll with it and be grateful for it.

WLThe last individual release I wanted to talk about is Death My Hanging Doorway. Why have you adopted its title as a tagline for APL?
DM: I don’t worship death, I don’t think it’s glamorous and I don’t think it’s something that should be toyed with. At the same time, it was a phrase that popped into my head “Death my hanging doorway” meaning there is a doorway we’re all going to pass through at some point, and that is death. None of us know for sure what happens beyond that.
I had a unique experience in that, during spinal surgery, I technically died. My heart stopped and had to be restarted, they had to get the defibrillator on my chest and I was technically dead. I believe in the mind, body and spirit and I have confirmation of that because I died.
That’s why it says “DMHD Too Tough to Die” because I didn’t, I’m too tough. Also “Too Tough to Die” is the name of an awesome Ramones album, but it’s also a title the military uses and also a great Martina Topley-Bird song.
But it’s a reminder that you don’t know what’s beyond that ‘hanging doorway’. I’m just trying to get as much done on this side, before I have to pass through to the other side of the door, because I don’t know what’s there. I do a little bit because I died briefly, but that was strange. It was a strange occurrence.

WLYour interview with Invisible Oranges came almost a year after your first interview with Lurker’s Path and in it, you came across as much less guarded. At that time you became unafraid to embrace the hooky, catchy parts of your music, was there something in letting the mystery fall away from APL that freed you up creatively?
DM: For sure. When I started the project I didn’t want to be unique, I just wanted to be good, so I followed in the footsteps of the things that I liked. So it was guarded, emotionally distant and mysterious, but I only have my own heart to follow. That’s all I’ve ever done is follow my own heart, maybe in a reckless way, but not in a destructive one. I follow my heart because it leads me to good places, sometimes by stumbling but I have to follow it. I felt like being distant and cold was something I wasn’t and it felt like bullshit, and I don’t want to promote that aspect of anything. I want it to be me.

WLYou’ve been a fan of black metal since ‘96 I think you said, and The Feast of Clipped Wings has the most obvious black metal sound to it, while each release after has moved a little further away from that towards your own thing. Is that a conscious decision, or is it something that’s just happened naturally while writing?
DM: No, it’s just how I write. My favourite thing to do is play guitar, and if you listen to APL, there’s five thousand guitar tracks on everything. It’s how I express myself the best, I’m not a good singer, I’m not a good songwriter, I’m not a good drummer. I’m not a good programmer as far as electronics go, even though I try my damnedest with Bodystocking. I’m not good at any of that stuff, I’m good at playing guitar. I’m okay at bass because it’s kind of a big, dumb guitar. But again, I just follow my heart, and whatever comes out with my hands while playing guitar, that’s what it is. It isn’t conscious in any way.
The other thing that bums me out is that I think I’m playing black metal. Maybe not ‘black metal’ because you have the purists. It’s kind of funny, my favourite band of the last four months has been Satanic Warmaster, and I’ve listened to them for years but I can’t get enough of them lately- but if Werwolf heard APL he’d be like “what the fuck is this crap?” He’d probably call it gay and drop the hard “g” on it. I don’t like to say that word but I don’t know. I’m just doing my own thing, maybe he’d dig it and think this is cool.
It’s all about following what I want to do, and I think I’m existing within the bounds of art. Some people consider Mercyful Fate a black metal band. Why? it’s because of spirituality, not because of the music. Maybe I’m a white metal band. If you call yourself white metal you’re going to get yourself in a lot of trouble on the internet, if you call yourself purple metal you’re going to get yourself in a lot of trouble on the internet [laughs].

WLHave you caught a lot of flack for it?
DM: Oh fuck yeah dude. I said in that Hammer Smashed Sound interview, everyone who has ever made fun of me hasn’t been as smart or as clever as me, so it’s not threatening. The guy who runs That’s How Kids Die- and you can print this shit, I don’t give a fuck- I’d put something out and he’d laugh and say “the fuck is purple metal?” At first I wanted to shut this guy down but I’d go and check out his stuff, and there would be iPhone screenshots of the most pedestrian bullshit metal. “Check it out, I’m listening to Electric Wizard!” like, what a fucking dork. You think I’m threatened by you or care about what you think of me?
I felt bad for the guy, that’s the worst part. I had wanted to attack him or take him down, but I thought that he may tie a noose or something.

WLYou’ve talked about a little bit about doing a full length for APL, you’ve said it’s a long process and that you have certain riffs that you’ll set aside for it. What’s the difference between the material going on an album versus what is on the demos, splits and EPs?
DM: I think an album should have a cohesive feeling to it. It shouldn’t be just a collection of ten songs grouped together in sequence, they should have a thematic feel to them. So when I write a riff that sounds a certain way, I put it aside for recording an album because I feel like it fits within a broader picture. The only difference between an album and a demo for me, is length. There’s no added production value, maybe a little bit. But mostly I think it’s just a thematic thing.

WLThis blog deals with USBM and all the connotations of that tag, however valid it may or may not be. As an American artist who’s worked so much with black metal, what does it mean to you, twenty years removed from Von and Norway? What has it meant to you so far removed from where it initially came from?
DM: I was talking about this yesterday; America’s still the wild west. We’re only 200 years old and maybe we’re world leaders right now, but we’re sort of like the Aztecs were. They ruled what’s now Mexico, but they were rednecks. They were fucking crazy people, I don’t want to make fun of anyone with mental health issues, but they were nuts. They ran Mexico, not because they were the most civilized or the most on point or organized, but they were the most brutal. People were afraid of them, and I think that’s how America is. We don’t have 900 years of culture behind us that actively influences us like it is in France or England. So we still kind of have that ‘wild west’ mentality, and in America people will say that Europe has so much together, you know? They have health care, they have government programs and the government is really interested in their people and yeah, but they also have Lacuna Coil.
If you go to England, it’s the land of The Smiths, everyone’s well read and has cool hair and is beautiful- but go look at a chav. They’re rednecks, it’s just as bad there as it is here.
But what does American black metal mean to me? It’s still the wild west, we can still do whatever we want to do. We invented punk rock, hardcore, rock and roll. All that shit came from American soil, it’s the birthplace. And if you were to take something that wasn’t rock and roll, my favourite non-rock artist is James Brown. He’s coming up from blues, soul and jazz, it’s all American shit.

WLLast thing I wanted to ask, seeing as A Pregnant Light is an intensely personal project, you pour so much of yourself into it, what is it that you hope the listener gets out of it?
DM: That’s a really great question. I don’t know.
Any artist that creates and puts their art out there, some do it for validation, some want money or fame or whatever, but I think most people who put their art out do it because they want to share how they feel and they want to find sympathetic people that understand it. And I don’t know if I do want to meet someone who understands my music, that’s like looking in the mirror, that’s a little weird. But at the same time, that’s the music I gravitate towards, the music that I feel I understand.
The other thing though is that I don’t like to give too much direction as to what the listener should take away from it. It’s been said a million times, but if you invest yourself and your mind into art, and you pull something out of it, regardless of what it was intended to be, it’s valid. I don’t want something I could say to change how someone perceives my music, even if they hear it and go “fuck yeah, devil 666” then it’s not really what I’m going for, but if you pulled that from it and it feeds you in a positive way, despite coming from negative things, I’m not going to correct you. It isn’t mine to correct.

connect with Damian on twitter @DAMIANMASTER
apregnantlight.bandcamp.com

Anagnorisis come straight from America’s heartland, the midwest. Louisville, Kentucky isn’t historically a hotbed for black metal. It lacks the crime-ridden grime of Chicago, the brittle, artistic bent Brooklyn’s become famous for, and it certainly isn’t known for the expansive sun-scorched rage of Southern California. But if you follow Anagnorisis and listen to the blistering experience that their music is, you’ll realize that context and locale are irrelevant to their craft. They’re aiming to disregard your expectations anyways, and do so on their terms.
A staunchly independent group, Anagnorisis have poured themselves into what they do. The black metal the listener hears is undoubtedly a labor of love, everything from the music to the final physical products has been carefully fashioned by them. This hands on approach is indicative of the dedication they execute their message with. Their black metal is savage, passionate and carved from a collective hatred towards religion, and a desire to affirm the individual. Christianity is the primary offender, and it’s with ferocity and precision that vocalist / lyricist Zachary Kerr accuses.
Their second full length “Beyond All Light” is a towering album that seethes with a determined power. Zach of course leads the charge with his coarse, powerful delivery, and I was fortunate enough to be able to ask him about what it is that has pushed him and Anagnorisis onwards, as well as what he sees is their role within (and outside of) black metal.

Western Lamb: Anagnorisis has seen its star rise exponentially since the release of Beyond All Light. After 11 years of the band existing (in various incarnations) was this something you anticipated or could have seen coming? And how has the growth of the band affected you on a personal level?
Zach: Not to dismiss the attention that Beyond All Light has gotten, but Anagnorisis has always been an overlooked band. To be honest, we never really expected to play this album live and it was written accordingly. We didn’t expect anyone to care about it, we wrote it for ourselves. We wanted to have a better sense of understanding as where we all stood together musically, and the direction we all wanted to in. So any “growth” the band has undergone, due to the “success” of Beyond All Light, has always been there. I personally have not been affected positively or negatively by it. I’m still not completely sold that anyone cares more or less about us than 10 months ago.

WL: What do you think is responsible for the rapid growth of American black metal in more recent years? Anagnorisis is obviously no newcomer to the game, and after more than a decade of honing what you do, is there a sense of camaraderie with any other black metal bands, or despite the communal nature of touring bands; is there a feeling of seclusion?
Zach: The rapid growth of American black metal is due to more bands forming, plain and simple. If you only have a handful of individuals in the late 90’s early 2000’s creating music as one man projects, it’s much harder to get a more general group of listeners to subscribe to these classic USBM albums. I’m sure most of these individuals feel contempt for the resurgence of popularity and imitation, yet as more bands emerge, more people want to be a part of it. Ironically, as for camaraderie, we have a few bands that we feel akin to, however, with such little pieces of success to be passed around in this subculture, we are all somewhat isolated or guarded to protect our art. In fact one of my personal favorite aforementioned early USBM artists came to see us, unsolicited, on this last tour and walked out on us within 15 minutes. Moments like that absolutely remind me how isolating this all can be.

WL: You took over the role of vocals and lyric-writing in 2013, everyone’s first taste of your abilities (shows aside) was the band’s second full length album. You haven’t minced any words about your contempt for religion, but what was it about religion that made it important enough for you to center your whole first album as the ‘frontman’ around it? The lyric “Shedding this christian skin, to be reborn in blackest sin” seems to imply you’ve experienced it firsthand.
Zach: My first appearance on vocals was actually our two song EP “Ghosts of Our Fathers” that came out a year and a half ago. Beyond All Light was my first opportunity to work on a full length lyrically, and felt that the approach to such an honest album was honest lyrics. To label it as just an anti-religious work is far from correct. This album was much more anti-life. It is a personal journal of a time that I can never seem to let go of. So it was more of a goodbye to memories that haunt me constantly. I was given away by my parents in my early teens to live in a religiously based boys rehabilitation camp in Western Samoa; that’s where the religious overtones fall into play, but “shedding this christian skin, to be reborn in blackest sin” is about death. It’s about the time spent ending my personal oppressions. The more important lyric in that song is “doing what must be done, through self annihilation”. That’s what Beyond All Light is about, my personal destruction or at least in the eyes of those that are so blinded by right and wrong, not being afraid to walk away from the “guided path”.

WL: What is it about black metal that has drawn everyone in the band to it and why is it the vehicle you’ve all chose to deliver your art and messages? Do you find that black metal has some intrinsic quality in it that lends itself better to certain people / ideals?
Zach: Black metal is a very broad title nowadays. If you looked at the “type” of black metal each individual member of Anagnorisis was into, you’d see why Beyond All Light has such a different sound from other albums of 2013. I can only speak for myself, but my interpretation of black metal is honest and raw. You know what you’re getting into when you put on a record, even if it’s over the top. This theory might not apply to every sub-genre, but at least to what I listen to. So my approach to Anagnorisis is honest and raw, both on stage and in personal representation of the band.

WL: Merely playing in a band seems like too simplistic an endgame for a band such as yourselves, is there any particular set of goals you hope for Anagnorisis to achieve, whether artistically or personally?
Zach: Anagnorisis is about personal discoveries, not really achievements. We’ve never toured outside of the states and have discussed many times the possibilities of doing so. I think at this point that is our biggest “goal”. Successful touring with bigger bands and seeing the world together. I’d like to believe we can spread a message of self-awareness, and godlessness in our path as well – that might just be wishful thinking, though. Also, trying to be successful as an independent is another high priority. The catch is, who wants a band not represented by a label stamp of approval, touring as direct support? This is the reality of DIY, and we hope to do for ourselves until it is obviously holding us back. I think everyone interested in self-awareness can understand re-evaluation and progression as the time/need comes.

WL: What do you think American black metal has in common with its European counterpart, and what do you think it does differently that has turned it into something of its own beast?
Zach: I don’t think there is a necessity to draw sides or lines. Black metal wouldn’t have started without Venom/Bathory/Candlemass and the lot of them, followed by the Norwegian scene, so why try and recreate an origin story for its American counterpart. USBM is as much it’s own thing as it’s European parent. I think both styles are going through a recreation process and taking the good and bad from all aspects.

WL: A lot of reviews made mention of Anagnorisis’ country of origin, do you feel this is indicative of a lazy attempt at grouping you into a convenient “scene” or do you think you’ve contributed in such a momentous way, that you have helped inform the world of what America is capable of in black metal?
Zach: I think reviewers/ critics and even skeptics, in the US have a sense of nationalism or pride to something they like, or appreciate, coming out of their home country. Those overseas are simply stating the fact that we are from the states. I’d hardly believe we are taking part in shaping the sound of what American black metal is capable of, or will turn into in the future. We have sold a lot of records overseas and I think just as American fans like hearing Scandinavian or broader European sounds, the same goes for fans looking for something different in their surroundings. Either way, we do really appreciate the push and support internationally that we’ve received.

WL: “USBM” of course has come riddled with pitfalls in the last few years; Deafheaven, Liturgy and Bosse-de-Nage have all been accused of ruining black metal in some way or another. You have taken an approach that shows a foundation much more firmly rooted in a traditional heavy metal, but still willing to go out on a limb musically and experiment. Do you think there’s any validity to trying to contain and define black metal? Is there any clear point to you at which an artist has strayed too far to be considered black metal any longer?
Zach: I’d rather listen to Deafheaven, Liturgy and Bosse-de-Nage any day over Cradle of Filth, so I believe it’s all interpretation and personal opinion. Take Krallice for instance; most people would lump them into the aforementioned “pitfalls”. I think they are brilliant and pushing boundaries, but who set these fucking boundaries anyways? Kids in Norway 20 years ago? Who cares what’s “true or cvlt” – It’s all bullshit. Art is not for the consumer, it’s about creation, and within music the recreation of “art” live, nightly, if you’re on tour. Maybe that’s why we’ve failed at renowned success, or maybe the music isn’t up to snuff, but we have always done it for us, with only us in mind. I’m sure if you asked enough people, we’re part of the “pitfall” too, which is fine. I’d rather be part of the problem than the solution when it comes to creativity and individuality.