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 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.

Sermones Ad Mortuos- A Glimpse of Our Ghostlands

I made this video with footage collected during a weekend visit to two castles in Wales (Caerphilly and Chepstow). It was complemented by additional filming in other locations in West London and Berkshire.

The clip serves to enhance a track written for my minimalist electronic ambient project’s Sermones Ad Mortuos debut album. This album, named ‘The Ghostlands Themes’, has been inspired by Ghostlands, a British DIY ghost hunting documentary. The original idea was to make an alternative soundtrack for the documentary as  I felt that the original music failed to evoke feelings that enhance the viewing experience. I was lucky enough to be in regular contact -through my work- with the maker of the documentary, Dr Ciaran O’ Keeffe, who kindly sent me some audio captured during the recording of the two episodes to be used as samples for my recordings.

Ambient is a genre solely based on creating a certain mood and atmosphere, and other than that it is surprisingly versatile, as it shuns any rules about how that mood is created. Other than Brian Eno’s original definition of ambient as music  regularizing environments by enhancing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncracies, there haven’t been many succesful attempts to ‘develop’ the genre into a specific direction. Rather, it has branched out in all sorts of different directions, always on the premise of creating certain soundscapes, or ‘enhancing environments’.

I am a firm believer in science, so have the greatest difficulty to believe in the existence of ghosts. I do however believe that the human mind is capable of creating ‘ghosts’ and indeed, it is exactly this capacity that is exploited by ghost hunters, musicians, artists and charlatans alike.  One could probably defend the view that this clip is my own attempt at playing with the suggestibility of the human mind, by creating audio and visuals that stimulate the ‘ghost experience’.

If you ask me how I define ghosts, I will point out to their fleeting nature. They are immaterial, yet have a certain ‘material’ component as they can be ‘heard’ or ‘seen’. They are nowhere, and yet everywhere. They are dead, but somehow also alive. I find their ambiguous nature endlessly fascinating, and this track and clip are my attempts at exploiting this sensation of vagueness, suggestibility and ambiguity. Hope you enjoy it and comments or thoughts about the clip or this topic are welcome.

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.