Review of Cult Never Dies- The Megazine

Another outstanding effort by Dayal Patterson in his now familiar interviewing style. This time the feel of the book is slightly different, with an aesthetic reflecting a high quality version of the old printed underground zines most of us are familiar with. There is also a difference in the content, with the bands being interviewed now expanded to genres outside of black metal, and the book also containing interviews with an illustrator, a label manager and a photographer.

As a doom metal fan, I was licking my fingers with the interviews of Reverend Bizarre and Indesinence in particular, the first giving insight into one of the most tormented and fascinating minds in the genre, and the second (conducted by Fen’s The Watcher) revealing aspects in the life of an old bandmate I wasn’t even familiar with after sharing 6.5 years together in the band!

As ever highly recommended and I am glad to see Cult Never Dies now slowly expanding their territory to incorporate more and more elements that are of interest to anyone in the extreme metal genre.

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Review of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ by S. Covey

Despite the corny title, which has spawned a whole genre of ‘the seven ways/steps/habits to become rich/successful/powerful’ books, this is a strong reading for those interested in coaching and self-development. It proposes the idea of integrity, consistency and an ethic approach being at the heart of every genuinely effective person, rather than greed and preoccupation with material wealth. Certain ideas, such as the crucial role of Quadrant II habits (attaching importance to activities that are not urgent, but important on long term as they contribute to one’s personal vision and values) are still very relevant; they could invite for an approach that favours substance and a long-term vision instead of regarding the completion of day-to-day tasks as a tick-box exercise. There is also the simple, but powerful idea of interdependence (considering the needs of others in your approach, including in business transactions) as the ultimate value, rather than the much more lauded in western societies value of independence. The latter is considered here as a transitional stage on the way to higher levels of effectiveness and self-fulfilment.

Other areas of the book I found less appealing, such as the insistence on the use of jargon words such as ‘synergize’ instead of the much simpler and -ironically- effective word ‘collaborate’. There is also the tendency to ‘psychologize’ in certain sections, seeking for deeper psychological explanations for phenomena that are probably much simpler to describe (case in point the utter tedious part where the author describes how his wife’s confession of the reasons behind her preoccupation with Frigidaire led to deeper levels of communication in their relationship). However don’t let this spoil the reading pleasure, this is a book from which most readers can probably learn and retain elements, whether this is in their personal lives, at work or elsewhere.

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.

Some thoughts on Sartre’s Nausea

I always found J-P Sartre a fascinating figure. He was clearly highly intelligent and a master observer of day-to-day human behaviour. His writing style was very clear and -unlike other existentialist authors- easy to understand by most. Despite this, I always had difficulty to accept some of the elements of his philosophy and worldview even though I couldn’t easily pinpoint what I felt was wrong with it.

One of the characteristics of his philosophy that alienate me most -luckily not yet visible in his early works- is his insistence in considering the individual life subordinate to ideology or political system, in short what many have justified as the ‘common good’ when seeking an excuse to abuse individual rights. Luckily this tendency is still not yet present in his early oeuvre and ‘Nausea’ feels more genuine and ‘human’ than some of his later works.

‘Nausea’ is a very good exposition of Sartre’s early ideas. As ever, the themes are clearly expressed and the protagonist’s sense of physical illness at the senseless of existence, very convincing and well-put. You can feel some empathy with the book’s conclusion as well, and the fact that our anti-hero takes solace in his own writing and regains his strength through the power of emotional expression -by getting carried away by his favourite jazz tune. But the world which Sartre depicts -one of endless freedom where we are constantly challenged to make choices between myriads of options- it’s a very schizophrenic one which I don’t feel corresponds much with the pressures of reality for most people. In most modern people’s reality, our environment and personality more often than not steer us in certain directions without us even being conscious of it -sometimes more gently than others. Very often we find ourselves either forced to make a choice between a finite and specific number of options, or making a choice and afterwards realising that that choice was actually suggested to us by the circumstances and we just went along with it.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t call here for resorting to total fatalism. Of course we still make conscious choices, and very often we are the masters of our own destiny. But looking at the worldview Sartre suggests in ‘Nausea’ -and other of his works- one can not help wondering if such a complete freedom would have exactly the opposite effect of what he is ultimately hoping to achieve, which is an empowered and liberated individual capable of making responsible choices. Such an existence of infinite freedom, would instead make a person feeling trapped in an endless array of equally valid choices that can be made at any time of their lives, leading to permanent anxiety and indecision. Such a world would be a very crippling and disabling existence indeed.

In conclusion, I feel that ‘Nausea’ reads wonderfully as a philosophical novel, but doesn’t make much sense from a epistemological, reality based point of view. Because of this I found it often difficult to identify with the thoughts of the main character Antoine Roquentin. For a more realistic explanation of how we perceive the world, including the way in which our brain often gives us the illusion of choices where there is none, I recommend this book. Unlike ‘Nausea’ it is a work of non-fiction written by a distinguished neurologist, but without the drama, absurdity and sensationalism often associated with books advocating scientific determinism. It also shares with ‘Nausea’ its clear, easily intelligible writing style that can be understood by most people.

Book review of Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult by Dayal Patterson

Ever since 1998, when a girlfriend made for me a black metal compilation tape with the likes of Emperor, Satyricon, Cradle of Filth, Marduk and Dark Funeral, I have been intrigued by this genre without ever becoming a die hard fan. If we leave aside the church burnings, murders, crime and all controversy surrounding black metal, there has always been a mystical, atmospheric element to the music which strongly appealed to me, a spirituality not found in death or thrash metal.

While my own journey has taken me into slower and heavier musical territories, I must confess that I have always reserved some envy for this musical genre that always seems to find a way to evolve and reinvent itself while at the same time retaining its traditional core sound and ethos with ease. This wonderfully detailed book further illustrates this point in its colossal 600 pages. I liked Lords of Chaos as it gave a convincing account of some of the personalities and peculiarities of the people who are at the forefront of the genre, but in retrospect it almost feels like no more than an intro to black metal after reading Dayal’s book, which is much more exhaustive in detail and thematically very cleverly structured.

The book follows more or less a chronological outline of the genre’s history and events, but only inasmuch the timeline illustrates the main branches of black metal. After a short but essential course on the founding fathers of heavy metal and the satanic philosophy which came to be so closely associated with the genre, the book slowly unfolds a history which started with the first generation bands such as Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer, before it goes on to explain how black thrash played -in retrospect- a significant part in black metal’s development. The South/Central European and South American scenes -both flourishing before the Norwegian explosion- are not forgotten either. The second generation of bands -with the Norwegian scene at its epicentre- is then exhaustively recounted. Mayhem serve as the main protagonists whose story is broken up in three parts which illustrate how their philosophy and mentality have been interwoven with the evolution of that second generation of bands.

The story of black metal is told through countless interviews with the protagonists of the genre themselves and while it’s impossible to do everyone justice, I don’t think that there are any reasons to complain, even for diehard fans. The main characters appear to be as eccentric, challenging and unpredictable as the music they play, which makes for very entertaining and at times even humorous reading. An extensive photographic section in the middle of the book -in chronological order- gives a visual spin to the story as well, and those who tend to only read headlines of chapters and parts featuring bands they are interested in, will still find a convincing guide of the visual evolution of black metal simply by browsing through some chapters and looking at the photo’s.

The story then takes us to the weirder and more avant-garde sub branches that have evolved more recently, as well as the cross-pollination of genres. However this is without failing to warn us that the term ‘post black metal’ (the prefix ‘post’ is nowadays annoyingly used in conjunction with most metal genres, as if there is a whole new generation of bands that have reinvented warm water) doesn’t necessarily mean that traditional black metal is dead: it’s merely a different approach.

Dayal has a detached and confident writing style that successfully manages to retain its neutral stance despite certain controversial -and quite frankly ethically repulsive- views voiced by some of the main characters in the book. His approach is that of a scientist, or more accurately a cultural anthropologist who merely describes and outlines some general tendencies of this subculture, without judging or moralising. He doesn’t shy away from controversies either, and discusses in detail the commercial explosion of the genre in the mid nineties and the rise of NSBM in countries such as Poland.

It’s somewhat pointless seeking for highlights as the book flows extremely well and can be read in one go, but personally I will retain mostly two things. Firstly the clever way in which Euronymous managed to inspire a whole scene by defining it conceptually rather than musically (in his view black metal was all about literal devil worship) which freed up its artists to explore shockingly diverse musical paths that are often incompatible with each other. And secondly the assertion that black metal never really accepted NSBM, not because it thinks its views are too extreme or unethical, but because -quite the opposite- they are too positive(!) as they focus on the procreation of the race, brotherhood and loyalty rather than the genre’s inherent individualism and unrelenting misanthropy.

In summary, this is probably the ultimate black metal encyclopaedia, or is bound to become this over the next few years, simply because I really can’t see anyone else taking up such a massive challenge to write a similarly gargantuan book. Whether you are a fan of the genre or not, it offers a highly engaging and thoroughly entertaining read about a genre that unlike many others, speaks to the imagination and the equally extreme and controversial subculture related to it.
Fiendishly recommended.