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.