Review of ‘The Cult Never Dies: Volume One’

Dayal Patterson’s phenomenal ‘Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult’ was for me a highlight not just in black metal writing, but in ‘alternative subgenre music history’ writing in general. It takes a rare combination of factors to create such an instant classic, including a thorough knowledge of the subject matter, a spiritual bonding with the material the author writes about, and painstaking research at the heart of the book. All these elements were firmly in place in Patterson’s debut book and the fact that it was also approved by most of its notoriously difficult protagonists, can only be seen as additional evidence of the quality of this work.

It was always going to be a difficult task to reach the same level of mastery in a second book which is a continuation on the same subject matter, a book which purports –in Patterson’s words- the release of new writing on the subject and chapters that could easily have slotted into the first book had I not been limited by space. However, don’t be misled by the description above; this book is luckily much more than just a collection of material that didn’t fit in the previous tome.

Instead of a chronological outline of the black metal genre, as in the aforementioned ‘Evolution of the cult’, ‘The Cult Never Dies Volume 1’ is thematically structured around three main parts. In the first part, Norway and its scene are revisited. In the second part, Dayal expands on the Polish black metal underground. Lastly, part three explores the relatively recent phenomenon of depressive black metal.

Once again the book is packed with the sort of detail that delightfully exposes the quirks and peculiarities of the characters behind this unusual musical genre. A visual companion adds an extra dimension to the stories for those readers who absorb information visually rather than conceptually. As a relative outsider to the genre, I initially tended to find the chapters about the bands whose music I already knew, such as Satyricon, Solefald or Bethlehem, more appealing. However, reading on the rest of the interviews with their more obscure but equally eccentric colleagues, I couldn’t help checking out the music of some of these bands out of curiosity, becoming in the process more interested in them. And this is another praiseworthy attribute of this fascinating book: because the individuality and strong will of the main characters come strongly to the fore through the interviews, you can’t help as a reader doing your own research about the bands you don’t know as much about, if only to find out if their music corresponds to their often bizarre and unusual worldviews. Total Negation, Mgla and Silencer you now have a new keen listener!

The tome also touches on themes and bands that are peripheral to the black metal genre per se, but relevant within its wider cultural context. There is e.g. a chapter on Wardruna, a band that can best be described as ‘ritualistic dark folk’, but has somehow managed to capture the hearts and minds of black metal fans. Reading through the interview with fascinating main man Einar it’s not hard to see why, as I can attest myself after hearing one of his talks at Roadburn festival earlier this year. There is also a chapter on the paintings of Theodor Kittelsen, a talented Norwegian ‘romantic’ whose melancholy, mystical and nationalist artwork graces many a black metal album cover, most notably in the work of Burzum.

If there is one point of constructive criticism I could make to this work, is that I would have liked Patterson’s own views to come more clearly to the fore. Continuing to approach his subject matter as a cultural anthropologist, he manages once again to inspire unusual –and sometimes deeply disturbed- personalities to tell their stories honestly and without self-censorship. However, many of their dubious views could and should be challenged, and when the author does so, this leads to fascinating reading. E.g. there is a very interesting conversation with Cornelius of the avant-garde black metal band Solefald, where Dayal challenges his lazy notion that provocative statements are necessarily connected to right-wing political views, effectively making him admit that this issue is more complex and multifaceted than a simple left/right divide. He does something similar in interviewing Herr Morbid from Forgotten Tomb– a man who appears to have some psychopathic views on the mission on his music and its apparent goal to incite people to commit suicide and self-harm. However, rather than confronting the musician directly, Dayal carefully points out in the book that the music contains many upbeat parts –at least compared to other ‘depressive’ acts- which begs the question whether there is an element of provocation and showmanship there rather than hardcore negative views that call for self-destruction. This leads to the author reflecting on the power of music and the artists’ responsibility over the consequences of negativity espoused through their work. I would like to see more of these passages in the future, in a work perhaps conceptually centred on the author’s philosophical views, where these views can be discussed with the many interesting creative persons he is in touch with, and the results of this dialectic intercourse can be reflected upon.

Regardless of the above, this is another fascinating book by Dayal Patterson. He  now firmly establishes himself as an erudite and noteworthy author, and I am already looking forward to his future work.

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