Saturday, March 23, 2013

Wormed - Exodromos

Wormed – Exodromos
Willowtip, 2013

Believe the hype. Wormed speak adequately to the zeitgeist...or at least the online simulation of the same. Problematics and possible arguments (not “controversies”) when first considering a review of the new Wormed album: the role of the writer and reviewer, the role of the listener. A reviewer is expected to somehow, even in a limited space, for a short time, try to convert music to words (depending on his/her skill, this is another problem) and then comment on those same conversions – or on the analogous conversions of others. I don't care about any of that. Do you? If you want to listen to Wormed you have the means to do so. Their new album leaked weeks ago, it's streaming on at least one website, descriptions are unnecessary. It's death metal, it is (as I said before in my review of the latest Devourment album) miscast, misaligned, shallowly-understood slam rising newly to breach the genre specifics of that hastily, dilettantishly circumscribed neo-genre. We now see “mainstream” death metal, meaning the “main current”, not death metal directed at “mainstream” listeners (what the fuck are those?) squatting, giving rise to daughter subgenres and then sucking up and incorporating the ideas of the same. Babies making babies. This is natural. Death metal, just like black metal, strains at the boundaries of its definitions, as it always has, spins out mutations and sucks them back in again. This is another way of saying: it's all death metal. It's all metal. It's all rock and roll. Deal with it.

Wormed enjoy playing with microgenre riff specifications. They'll throw out something that hints at what might be a bedroom black metal nth generation misunderstanding of an old Voivod riff if that makes you feel comfortable in the newly spun, created-while-listening microcosm of “interpretation” while you hunt for sonics that illustrate fantasies of abduction you didn't know you had. You'll say: yes, Voivod, yes, space, yes...something or other. Artificial harmonics, off-key chromatic dithering that makes people say “dissonance” without knowing what that word means in music theory. "Space" equals a limitless possibility that death metal can now move into, its signifier: the discordant that screams “The Future” (always capitalized), that Great Abstraction, that Great Nothing. Boundless optimism meaning nothingness (and this is Wormed's secret alignment with death metal's historic pessimism) because in pointing at all possibility it points at nothing at all. Wormed's guitars careen, accelerate and stop mute, twist and turn, writhe and dive, scream and microchug, absorb all of thrash, the entire history of death, they rise to the melodic insincerity of a failed black metal (yet never downcast, Wormed seek the optimist...which means the inhuman) and then thumb their nose at the same. Melodicism from the entire history of The Machine. If it seems insincere and outside all of history it's because it seeks to be, in turn, outside all of humanity, forgetting that humans create the robotic. At heart it's that same replicant rhythm, or the semaphore, dead-inside shouting to the deaf: the future is beat and pulse, it's sub-Meshuggah math rhythm because this brings us, somehow, back to our humanity, although this is just a surface communication and so: meaningless. Rhythm was the beginning of music...will it be the future? Is that our essence? No, now, humanity's fate seems to be in embracing technology, in embracing The Inhuman, in absorbing and being fucked by “extremity” that is somehow shoved by Freudian prosthetic god technology into a projected nirvana that is, let's admit it...a totalitarian nightmare. Rhythm under will, rhythm is the law. Wormed, on this album, play an incredibly technically precise and beautiful form of death metal that should inspire many (most to insincere, shallow replication) to follow in their footsteps, it's entertaining, moving (in the bodily sense, it doesn't touch the emotional), I have listened to this album at least twenty times already. They completely lack spirit, transcendence, humanity. That's the point. If that's truly (they're artists, you can turn away from what they're trying to sell you) the case this might be the most negative death metal album in a long while. Death as in “death of humanity?” It might seem natural to some, the grave-worshippers, the ash-swallowers. I prefer my death metal a little more humanistic. I want to feel runny flesh and grave fat in my death metal, I want to feel horror, shame, guilt, dread...I want to pretend I'm still alive. Wormed tells you: no, you're dead, you're abstracted consciousness, you're floating in the ether, let's convert your bones to stainless steel and still make music. In that sense? This album is a triumph. I love it in any case. 

UA - 032313

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Devourment – Conceived in Sewage

Devourment – Conceived in Sewage
Relapse Records, 2013

I have to be honest here: for me the crowning glory of this recording is, about 89% of the time, simply the guitar sound. Not always one to overtly let my eyes roll back and embarrassingly bathe in sonics (outside of song structure, overarching songwriting, whatever other messages the music conveys), especially in mixed company, this album has me reveling in iron-fisted, tyranically controlled distortion and downtuned guitar slaughter to a degree that would discomfort me in a projected externalization if I were somehow an outside onlooker still capable of shame. First and second drafts of the guitar's descriptions were red-facedly lustful while halting a hair's breadth from the queasily sexual or Costanza-like combination of the same and culinary flights, even...Rabelaisian? The words are halting, it's best one witness the darkness, width and breadth oneself, as usual. Download and press play. Buy and wait and press play. Feast. It's death metal. It's catchy, moving, well-written death metal that clawed its way up from outré, contrarian-adoring underground slam. I can only guess (or picture in the mind's eye) that this sound is the product of hushed, eager confabulations and amp-testing sessions between guitarist Ruben and engineer/fellow admirer of all things concrete-laden, Rutan. I would be pleasantly surprised to learn that Rosas entered Mana Studios with everything already planned out and dialed in. Was the Hate Eternal leader able to flex his expertise, show off the capabilities of his studio and gear collection? Maybe some interviewer in the future will ask about this. In any case, it is this incredibly thick, serpentine, black coalescence of punishing (yet beautifully clear) noise that converts the guitar writing from merely an instrument of simple song construction to a device/vehicle of expression that is throwing off band and album-themed signifiers with each note: the guitar sound IS the embodiment of disgusted misanthropy (askance in the mirror), sewer sludge, refuse and detritus-lives, nihilism, hopelessness, slave ideals and dive bar toilet futures. Production as voice, once again. Production as a vital part. That Devourment take this solidified, musical concatenation of ruined, garbage people and cast-off DNA and make it dance, make it sing, make it seem to enjoy and perversely flaunt its own willful worthlessness in the face of an inherited hierarchy of Official Reason, is what becomes their attractiveness, their subversive, irritating, entertaining value...even more: their putrefying (it has to be this way) meaning. 

UA - 031613

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Monarch Of The Sleeping Marches

Xibalba - Demo 2010

Xibalba, Demo 2010
NWN (was it really?), guess which year

Latest, fresh stabs at obscurity (or rather, a potential/reached-for attempt at the same while still communicating) from a group that I was convinced, for a long time, only received wider notice through the diligent research of black metal’s archaeologists after the decay of the Norwegian scene. Deeper and deeper, peeling back “influences”, sifting through dates, rehearsals, fingers thrust out for some gleaming melodic gem that evoked that special…something. A search for origins as metal has always been obsessed with stylistic DNA. A sequence of notes, a lick, a glancing, subtle taste of some reserved “darkness”: there it is, we have a dusty terminus, we can again trace evolution or at least mimic the same. We have meaning! So one has effrontery and what, by now, seems like a national characteristic of Norwegian arrogance, one counters by going further and farther – not Venom, not Bathory, let’s say Sarcofago, say all Greek, say anything else. Let’s take it to anything other than The North. Let others have their pride. If not, a turning away, a dream of never-existing jungle, moist and down-ridden, slum-defying, raised in dirt under the microscope of Imperialism and an almost absolute cultural misunderstanding or ignorance. Desperation of the remove, universes or black and white textbook worlds away from the sensationalist press-created hegemony of frozen cultural narratives, people who don’t even speak Spanish or Portuguese.

Having been around forever, Xibalba understand this conflict so natively, so instinctively, that they feel no need whatsoever to carry it like a banner standard in their music. Why state in obvious terms, blatant references, what is so apparent and obvious that it would be a embarrassing failure to even glance obliquely at it? Something to scorn, to laugh at? It might as well not exist. Better: it doesn’t exist. Let’s not even dream of it, no matter how deeply one sleeps. Not nationalism (itself a cloying reminder of past possible interpretations of black metal, now obsolete) as a mirror reflection of any form of Imperialism, cultural or not, nationalism as a dream world without references or boundaries – eventually, no nationalism at all. Freedom?

Xibalba generate “obscurity”, of course, but also, aligned with that, originality of dark purpose in two manners: what seems at times like an utter disregard for traditional song structures (although they are internally cohesive, so: effective) and a personal, unique, expertly expressive sense of melodicism. The latter comes through mainly in the use of rapid iterations of solo guitar (overdubbed in two sections at least, two voices) over the blazing, ripping structure of the rhythm strings. The guitars are the real focus of this music for me. I could disregard the vocal work (there is a lot going on even with that, and it's nice), the drumming (I can barely hear it) and the bass. If the last is even there often at times it must be posited instead of commented upon. When it swells into attention or focus in times of relatively straightforward riff-building its distortion and deep presence seems to be wriggling like a serpent to aid the leading guitars in their generous, multiform imaginings. However, whatever traditional references to the genre Xibalba throw out into the guitar maelstrom appear and disappear as spokes of a outreaching climb that must be recognized only in order to define the opposite. Mirror planet, again, black and white, the dusk punched through into a new world of rainbow color. In terms of the basic rhythm guitars and the song structures they summon into ladder-being, there are a thousand other bands just like Xibalba. As the leads fly above and establish a true identity as reversal and comment, inverse and novelty, idiom and a private, personal world, there are no other bands on Earth like Xibalba. <-- <--

UA - 062211

Sect - Doomsday

Sect - Doomsday
Deathkvlt Records, 2011

After the avant-garde is over, all that there remains is the bitterness of…professionalism? I suppose one could argue that European bands take a certain stylistic delight in such contrasts, the chaos of rebellion and “dark” emotion, a resonating remnant of punk revolt (breaking the earth again in black metal’s ascendance) vs. aesthetic concentration on practiced music being masterfully recorded, reduced to a product and that product, again, being offered as one more slice of a lifestyle still, somehow, against all odds, wedded to confusion, erupting proletariat angst and defiance – reduced to aesthetics and “art” in order to sublimate? Does “professionalism” always equal “product” and can it then be easily dismissed as divorced from its own declared (in such a smooth, sterile, reified manner, danger redacted) intent?

Sect are professional. They absorb the influences one must in order to stand on the world stage and demand a proportion of the listening audience. The familiar as a hook - then the bottoming out and new worlds to discover. At first, going through the first two songs, one hears Craft, Shining, Deathspell Omega at a relaxed pace, with admirable expansiveness. Sect breathe easy, they stretch out, there is no immediacy, no urgency. Here are subtle echoes of other bands as well – if not of the shared language all musicians like this must be fluent in (while offhandedly “denying” so to appear “original”) if they are to be genre-specific. Then it all tears open. The third song features an echoing, eerie, otherworldly motif that seems to fade in and out of the main argument, the core driving communication of the guitars. This is built upon, decoded, torn apart, reconstructed, mentioned as an aside, etc. all the while climaxing to the real breakthrough: the fourth song, a burst of lashing death and grinding speed, a certain desperation which climbs (the entire album is structured as a rising and falling) to a plateau of novel interpretation or creation, one pierces walls and breaches gates. Then: the Russian heritage (or stylistic appeals to/references to the same), a taste of spirit and passion as we move into the last part of the work: a return to quiescence, a lapsing back into a seemingly effortless unfolding of rigid, approved melancholy.

I did not research this band in an adequate manner before writing this review, I know this. I don’t recognize what’s old or new, I don’t know the dates of the compositions, I don’t know their history or how that history is represented on this recording. In one’s mind it seems to start at the ancient, move to the new and daring and then relapse back into the more secure, a dream of possibility. I only have my own emotional responses to the music, what I can see of the structures coalescing from shyly-tossed references to a steel creation of purpose and then decaying, rusting away. Organic, then, to match the nihilistic atmosphere of folklore I hear in almost all Russian music. In the center is the real heart (cliché heaped upon cliché, I apologize) of this band, I feel. One can see it projecting outward to reach even greater evocativeness and eloquence in the future. <--

UA - 062211

Friday, June 17, 2011

Aosoth - III

Aosoth – III
Agonia, 2011

So those of us outside of whatever spiritual journey there is and such flights and escapes presuppose hierarchies in themselves, guides and structures which others will show you or reticently hint at and then glide behind innumerable veils, riding on the razor edge of faith and desire that you (one still believes in such things) will believe in…what? Nothing. But where, before, in our Western, virgin, utterly newborn and ignorant education, Nihilism still carried the unhallowed taint of an eternal fall and the supposed Catholic joy or temptation of the same, the pleasure of the fallen and irredeemable, there was titillation and promised felicity in stroked nerves rendered mute and dusted in a collapsed civilization, each proponent so eager to claim the I, the subjective, the Me, the all important personal experience, the internal, Eternal world, the meaning that escaped Subjectivity to become Objective, the single man becoming singular and thus…everyman?

This is the problem of Evil.

Aosoth do not escape this. They strive to express the power in Evil, they push forward so eagerly (not really, that’s a cliché, a commonplace, they really don’t care at all) – but it’s appearances, apparently that matter (ala Wilde, horrible, tragic commonplace in itself) – they never express Evil or anything near it. They do express Darkness, but that is merely a matter of perception. To someone, I can spout innumerable examples, this will appear strident, noteworthy, something to be noted, examined, perhaps listened to over and over on headphones while escaping others, deep down, hidden in the depths of a creek overhang while parents harangue and throw dishes at each other in a trailer park. Here is Evil, here is Power, here is an escape. I will do this, I will make this, I will escape, I will learn minor chords and slow, tiny variations in chords, moving from fret to fret to limit my own expression (how fenced-in the melodic array of “evil” and “darkness” is in metal!), I will find some literary escape and throw myself into black, horror-ridden dimensions in order to escape into…what? Nothingness. Suicide. <-- <-- <--

UA - 061711

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Interview: Josh Haun of THKD Magazine

I first started talking to Josh Haun of That's How Kids Die magazine shortly after he published a very flattering (to me, personally), insightful review of one of my old band's releases. I commented on the review, we began conversing, the rest is a pleasant history. He's a friend of mine and I've enjoyed writing to him in the interim. I admire his magazine THKD for a number of reasons, not the least of which are his frank, blunt, honest writing style, eloquence and obvious integrity. What follows is a long interview I did with him to further explore his ambitions and history with music. [UA]

In this interview I’m going to try to stay away from topics that we’ve already (probably sufficiently – but I apologize in advance if I repeat myself) covered in emails, so let’s just start by my asking you this: do you remember when you first started writing about music, what first prompted you? Was it a matter of someone assigning you to cover an album, topic, etc. or did you do it spontaneously? What led you to continue this process? What kind of satisfaction is involved, what kinds of disappointment? Tell us a little about your personal writing history, how you formed your new magazine/website, what made you switch over from your old(er) one, etc. Are you satisfied with your progress so far on THKD, the attention/notice it has received?

I first started writing about music sometime after high school.  I didn't go to college right after high school like most people, I went to work full time and did that whole trip for four years before deciding to get off my ass and go to college.  With most of my friends away at school and me left behind, I didn't have shit else to do but sit around and read and listen to music.  At that time I was still reading music magazines cover to cover, everything from Rip and Circus to Alternative Press and Rolling Stone (or whichever of those were still around at the time, my memory is bad)… I was (and still am) in the middle of Iowa and was voraciously searching for any and all the information I could find about new music, which was fucking scarce… we still only had dial-up internet and it took about an hour just to download one MP3 and streaming music was out of the question, so I was still relying on mags to steer me in the right direction.  I read album reviews obsessively and I don't really remember when it started, but at some point I thought, "Hey, I think I can do this" and I started writing reviews and just e-mailing them to my friends or whatever.  I'm not sure any of them cared, but I kept doing it any way, I found it personally satisfying whether anyone else read them or not.  At some point me and a friend that I had met through this completely toxic beast of a girl I was dating at the time discussed putting out a zine, and I wrote a bunch of shit for it but the zine never materialized.

From there I decided to go to college and get a degree in journalism.  When I first got to school I took advantage of the free websites they offer students and started writing reviews and posting them.  On the strength of those reviews, I got a spot on the student run newspaper, writing reviews of metal albums and getting assigned to interview all kinds of bands.  I interviewed pop punk bands, blues guys, you name it.  I couldn't even tell you who the first metal band I interviewed was… I interviewed a lot of big mainstream metal bands there, like Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage, shit like that.  I think my favorite "big" interview I ever did was Hank Williams III.  Anyway, I worked my way up through the ranks of the paper to assistant editor of the Arts and Entertainment section and then when I had some editorial say I got to cover some more (relatively speaking) underground bands like Soilent Green, Origin and Wolf Eyes, but occasionally I'd "take one for the team" and interview a rapper or organ player or whoever happened to be coming to town.  I did the editor thing for a semester and then was feeling kind of burnt out so I went back to being just a reporter and got assigned to interview all these atrocious nu-metal bands, which I only did because I was being paid.  I'm sure that sounds terrible and makes me sound like a complete sellout, but it was either that or not have any fucking beer money.

After college, I wasn't entirely sure that I wanted to work in journalism and coming close to getting a couple jobs in the field only to crash and burn sealed the deal for me.  So I took a job with the company I work for now and decided to pursue writing on the side.  I first started writing for but fucking hated it.  The guy that runs it is nice as can be, but that site attracts some of the biggest assholes in the history of the internet, and I was always getting sent the absolute bottom of the barrel promos, so I was getting angry/frustrated and writing a lot of overly negative reviews as a result.  That, combined with the fact that they don't believe in editing or providing any sort of constructive feedback at that site made me realize that I really wasn't going to develop as a writer there, it was a completely toxic environment.  So I just stopped sending them reviews or communicating with them at all.  The whole experience was totally discouraging.  After that, I randomly found a site called Sonic, while searching for reviews.  It was everything I was looking for, diverse, low key, friendly and positive.  It just so happened they had a big "help wanted" section up on their site, so I e-mailed the founder, Sean to see about writing for them.  I sent him some samples and he gave me the go ahead.  I was happy there, everyone was friendly, they let me write about the bands I wanted to write about, and it wasn't just a metal site, they covered all types of music.  Eventually I started writing a metal column for them called Dethroned Emperor, which actually started as blog that I had been doing on the side.  I got back in touch with my old metal contacts from when I was working for my college paper and interviewed bands like Averse Sefira, The Day Everything Became Nothing and Saros.  Eventually Sean got too busy with "real life" to run Sonic Frontiers.  I offered to take over the reins.  A lot of the other writers kind of disappeared with Sean, so I tried putting together a new staff and keeping the site going, but it was largely a disaster.  I tried my best to screen people, but I still managed to find dishonest assholes who ripped me off for a bunch of promos and whatnot.  I had a couple writers that were great, loyal and hard working, but it just wasn't enough to keep the site going.  So after about a year of that I decided to throw in the towel, the final straw came when I discovered that one of the writers was plagiarizing right under my nose.

In the last months of Sonic Frontiers, I had started That's How Kids Die.  Sonic Frontiers was never truly my own vision, I wanted something that was more aligned with my own personal tastes.  At first THKD was just me raving about whatever I wanted, books, films, music.  One day I got the idea to make it over as webzine that would strictly cover death and black metal.  Chris Bruni at Profound Lore hooked me up with my first interview with Lasse of Hooded Menace.  I started moving some of my more metal-centric articles/interviews/etc over from Sonic Frontier to THKD in order to preserve them and the rest is history.  After THKD had been going for a while and Sonic Frontiers was kicking the bucket, Cosmo Lee asked me if I'd be interested in writing for Invisible Oranges, so I did that briefly for a while too, but I've come to realize that at this point I have little interest in writing for others and even less interest in bringing on other writers to work for me.  I'm a lone wolf and I fucking like it that way.  I am however grateful to Cosmo for exposing my writing to more people and allowing me to meet some cool folks through the site.

As for THKD's evolution and the recognition it has received, I'm extremely satisfied.  I've certainly expanded beyond the strict black/death metal only parameters I originally set down for it, but I see that as a good thing.  I'd like to think my writing has improved and developed significantly since I started, but I'll leave that up to the readers to judge.  With so many metal blogs out there, I'm happy to receive any recognition/readership at all.  The fact that people think enough of my writing to actually subscribe to THKD blows my mind, considering the multitude of options out there.  Having one of my articles get recognized by NPR last year was also an obvious high point for me.

Tell us a little about your first introduction to metal, or “outsider” forms of rock in general. What first attracted you to it? What do they continue to mean to you, these forms of music, what do they add to (or subtract from) your life? Any good stories or favorite personal experiences from the past? Do you ever envision a life without this type of music – or without writing about music? I often do. Has the meaning this music had for you changed over the years?

When I was a kid, there was always music on in the house.  My mother was always playing records or had MTV on in the background.  Also, my uncle was and still is a huge fan of KISS.  So as a result I was constantly inundated with music from a young age and took an interest in it.  But, I didn't really discover metal until I was a little older.  Of course at first it was all the hair bands that MTV showed, like Poison and Motley Crue.  Then one day I saw Metallica's video for "One", and that was one of those moments of thinking "this is the sound I've been waiting my whole life to hear".  I still think that's a perfect metal song and every time I hear it, I remember it as my introduction to "real" metal.  After that I started staying up late on the weekends to catch Headbanger's Ball and buying magazines like Rip.  You have to remember that at the time I was living in Iowa and going to Catholic school, so I had no access to any sort of underground.  I had a friend who liked the same things and his older brother had some cool stuff like Megadeth, Anthrax and older Manowar. I was also big on Danzig and White Zombie. Around that time I discovered a lot of cool "alternative rock" (for lack of a better term) and punk around that time, stuff like Misfits, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Pixies and that stuff coming out of Seattle that a lot of my readers probably hate, haha.  I also listened to a lot of classic rock like the Doors and Led Zeppelin.  Hearing the song "Black Sabbath" for the first time on headphones at some point during this era of discovery was also huge for me.

As I got older and gained more/easier access to things, my tastes turned to the heavier stuff.  At first it was Slayer, Sepultura and Pantera… you know, the gateway bands.  Then at some point I heard Entombed and Morbid Angel.  I didn't like death metal when I first heard it because of the vocals, but at some point something clicked and I started to "get it" and just became totally obsessed over the later years.  I didn't first hear black metal until way later, probably around 2000 or so… I read an article in some magazine about black metal and just started buying albums at random because I was so intrigued by the whole thing.

The attraction to metal for me has always been the heaviness and the dark subject matter.  As a kid I loved horror movies and was always fascinated by villainous characters.  I'm not entirely sure why, because I remember being a relatively happy and well adjusted child.  There was just something about horror and villains that struck a nerve with me, and the when I heard music that was as dark and aggressive as the movies, comics, etc that I was interested in, it just made sense.  Additionally, I've always been a very visual person, so seeing people like Gene Simmons and Alice Cooper made a big impression on me when I was a kid.  On another visual note, metal albums had the best covers, which went right along with the horror movies and comics. To this day I still love staring at a cool metal album cover.

I think metal adds a lot to my life.  When I was young, metal gave me the strength to fully realize and become comfortable with my budding atheism, something that was not easy going to a Catholic school and being in the Midwest.  Metal also provides me an escape from the mundane, because for me, a good metal album isn't just some random music you throw on in the background while you do something else.  Similar to a good book, a good metal album creates its own world and draws you into it and demands your full attention, it is a transcendent experience.  Listening to an album by yourself on headphones in a darkened room… there are few things in life that can equal that experience.  I don't think you can ask for much more from music than personal strength and transcendence.  Metal still means these things to me, but I find myself hearing fewer and fewer albums that truly move me as the years go on.  I'm not sure if it's me that's changing or if it's the music, but I tend to think it's the music/bands.  I still have the same enthusiasm for metal that I had when I was younger, but there is just a lot less to be enthusiastic about these days.

I'm 31 now and I've been listening to metal since I was in middle school.  At this point, I honestly cannot imagine life without it.  As for the writing, I've come close to "retiring" on several occasions.  But every time I think I'm fed up or burned out, something compels me to keep going.  So, I'll probably be a weird old man listening to and writing about metal, with Darkthrone stickers on my wheelchair or something.

With the proliferation of review sites, blogs, comment sections, message boards, etc. it seems that not only is every listener also a “reviewer” or “critic” these days but that they also seem to feel it is completely within their rights as a listener to criticize openly, condemn, praise, etc. Within this expansion of opinion, the availability of opinions to any reader, what is the purpose of the “official” music critic or reviewer these days, what is the purpose and place of a music journalist? How is his/her judgment and writing privileged? Do you think that this expansion of available opinion and a certain loss of prestige formerly given to the music critic have led to many people leaving the pursuit? Should music writing be completely democratic? Is it simply…a product that certain people sell, often just for prestige?

The proliferation of review sites, blogs, etc is both good and bad.  It's good in that it gives a lot of talented/interesting writers a voice that might not have had one otherwise, because they live in the wrong area, aren't a part of the "cool metal journalist" club, etc.  Let's face it, a "hick from Iowa" such as me would probably never have a chance in hell of writing for a big magazine, but because of the internet and the relative ease of being able to put together a professional looking webpage for a minimal cost, my voice can be heard by people all over the world.  On the other hand it can be bad, because it allows a lot of ignorant fools that can barely put together a coherent sentence the ability to be internet trolls from behind the veil of anonymity.  You don't see me writing under a pseudonym.  I stand behind my writing and opinions and I'm willing to take on all comers.  I once had a guy from a band I gave a bad review to walk up to me and slap me across the face, but I stood my ground and stood behind what I wrote.

I don't know that we need "official" music journalists, and quite frankly I'm a bit suspicious of people who get paid to write about music.  The only time I was ever paid to write about music was when I worked for my college newspaper and although I was definitely interviewing bands I didn't care about at times, I never went out of my way to make them sound like they were the greatest thing since sliced bread, and all of my reviews were written with 100% honesty, good or bad.  I'm not saying all paid music journalists lack integrity by any means, but it does often seem like some (but not all) of these big review sites and magazines are just cheerleaders for the big metal labels and whatever bands they're currently pimping.

There is a loss of prestige, and I'm totally okay with that.  My opinion is no more/less important than anyone else's and neither is the opinion of the dude that writes for Decibel or Pitchfork or whatever.  A lot of these "official" music journalists come off as nauseatingly arrogant, in addition to having extremely questionable taste, and knocking them off of their "cool kid" pedestals can only be a good thing.  No one cares what bands you hang out with or how many sweet promos you get.  I have no interest in writing from a pedestal.  I want to be down in the fucking trenches.

I think the place of the music journalist is to inspire thoughtful discussion/debate about music.  In an age when anyone can google an album and hear it instantly, we don't need someone telling us what an album sounds like, we can hear it for ourselves in five minutes.  So the reviewer’ job becomes telling us about what the music does, rather than what the music is.  What kinds of thoughts does an album inspire?  What sorts of images play out in your mind when you listen to an album?  What is your interpretation of this set of lyrics? These are the kinds of things a good review can discuss and in turn (hopefully) inspire other listeners to think about the music in a deeper, more thoughtful way than the lazy "this album/band rules/sucks" rhetoric that goes on.

Do you think that writing to bands, writing interviews, receiving them back, reading through them…this entire process…leads you to a better understanding of their music, or of at least their stated (usually false, in my experience) motivations? Does it “help” with your listening in any way, is it pleasurable? Do you enjoy talking to musicians? Has this process expanded your ideas/views on music, deepened them in any way, or is it the reverse? You told me before that writing about music has put you in contact with people who later became friends (I’m not talking about you and me here) – is this a primary motivation? If this is true, that it does work this way, has the entire experience over the years been positive or negative?

When an artist is willing to dig deep and really put some thought and effort into responding to my questions, then it is both a pleasurable and insightful experience for me.  When I listen to an album, questions are always popping into my head, whether I plan on interviewing the band or not.  It could be something as simple as wondering how did they get a certain guitar sound or what happened in their lives to inspire a certain song or lyric. The problem is that probably eight or nine times out of ten, artists aren't really willing to go that extra mile and give a thoughtful interview.  But when they do, you can hopefully learn not only about their music, but about them as people.  The more you learn about them on a personal level, the more you begin to understand where they're coming from musically.  Some, like Poney of the Brazillian thrash band Violator and Brandon Duncan, who does The Sequence of Prime, I've come to correspond with on a semi-regular basis outside of doing interviews and such, but that was never my goal, it's more of a wonderful perk to get to know these guys and others on a more personal level.

Occasionally, you run into guys like Satanic Warmaster, who give you so little that you kind of wonder why they bothered responding to the interview in the first place, but for the most part the experience has been a very positive one, and I'm always excited to see what I get back when someone returns an interview to me.  I do enjoy the entire process from listening to an album, researching a band and formulating the questions to getting the interview back and laying it out with pictures and music clips in order to get it ready to publish.  I'm a big fan of things that involve a multi-step process and attention to detail.

Do you think that the role of the music journalist, especially when the internet is concerned, is still unstated, undefined, in a state of flux, or can you see on the horizon a more stable identity, a new paradigm that would be acceptable? I believe such things go hand in hand with the unstable state (right now) of music itself: the products, the formats, the industry, the rapidly oscillating styles, genres, etc. When (or if) a new format for “delivering” music is invented and standardized, perhaps outside of the physical medium completely, will this in turn create a new form of music journalism, a new form of critic? If so…how will this change writing, listening, the writer reflecting on listening?

Oh, it's definitely in a state of flux.  You've got these "big" sites, like your Metalsucks, Invisible Oranges, Metalreview, etc, and then you've got small blogs/webzines such as my own, and everything in between.  There's no set standard for how music news, reviews, interviews are being delivered, just as there are so many formats for delivering music (MP3, CD, vinyl, cassette, etc).  Chaos reigns at the moment, but I think this is a good thing.  However, if we're going to have all of these different sources of information, there needs to be a lot of variety and it makes me happy to see that the approaches of the other bloggers I'm in contact with are completely different from my own.  Right now there is absolute freedom to do whatever you want and this is just as it should be.  You can express yourself in any way you see fit and who can tell you that your way is wrong?

I think the changes in the music industry and the way we obtain music already have changed music journalism.  Now, for better or worse, anyone with an opinion and a modicum of technical know-how can put together a fairly professional looking blog for nothing or next to nothing.  This proliferation makes it tougher to obtain a following, but I think the men will eventually separate themselves from the mice and the ones who are in it for the wrong reasons, or who aren't metal "lifers" will quit.  As I said earlier, I've considered quitting on a few occasions, but every time something has drawn me back into it.  I'm in this for the long haul and when the dust settles, THKD will still be here, weathering whatever changes come.

Is there still a place for print magazines in the world of journalism? Pros and cons? One sees what has happened in the world of newspapers, for example. I’m sure you’ve noticed that print magazine often just refer people in their pages (almost continuously) to their own websites. This is usually offered as an adjunct, an invisible expansion of their entire “presence” or product, but does it, at the same time, undermine the printed text? Do you think there is still a certain privileged status accorded print magazines (over internet writing) or is this fading? If a print magazine (or any kind of print, the real world medium) is accorded a greater reputation because of a certain stability inherent in it, a presence, a permanence, what does it say about journalism itself that this difference in reputation seems to be narrowing? Can the reputation, status, “importance” of a written work escape being limited or expanded based on its own medium, the way it is “delivered?” Form/function.

Print is dying a slow death, which is a shame.  There is something special about the print medium and I used to take quite a bit of pride in seeing my work in print.  But the advantages of the internet as a medium are simply beyond anything that print could ever hope to deliver.  For one thing, the content is completely free to the reader.  The other great thing is that people all over the planet have instantaneous access to your work.  The ability for the reader to interact is also extremely important.  I mean look at when I posted the link to your Ash Eaters demo.  My readers were able to download and listen to the demo in a matter of minutes, and interact directly with you via the comments section.  You can't get any of that with a magazine or newspaper.

I do think there was at one time a privileged status accorded to print mags, but that is clearly falling by the wayside.  As I said above the advantages of the internet over print are just too great to be ignored.  However, I think the most important thing is good writing, the medium should always be secondary.  Take Decibel for instance, there are some very good writers and some piss poor writers writing for Decibel, just as there are good and bad writers on the internet.  At the end of the day the method of delivery shouldn't matter, but delivering quality writing should always be the number one concern.

If “underground” music journalism often simply means “amateur” journalism, I’m sure you have often noticed the almost ever-present sense of altruism or “sharing” in such writing, the idea that journalists are mainly expected to write about music they love, music they have a very real, personal attraction to…and one must write about bands one wants to “share” with others, in the altruistic sense not only of promoting bands and helping them gain exposure/expand their presence but also to expand, in turn, the pleasure of other listeners and one’s own pleasure in making new connections with others. Can you talk a little about these promptings, these beliefs, standards, habits or themes? If such writing at first simply satisfies inner desire - urges on the part of the writer - after a certain skill and eloquence/fluency are gained how does a writer then transfer this to a “professional” level where one often has to write about bands one has no interest in whatsoever? Do you think it’s difficult for writers to make this transition? Does a misguided ambition carry some through it? Are there any moral or ethical themes connected to this?

Everyone who reads THKD knows that I only cover bands that I like and would recommend to someone else, and that I do get a lot of joy out of helping bands out that might not be getting in-depth interviews or reviews in larger publications.  Take Subrosa for instance.  Maybe I'm not looking in the right places, but the only interview I saw with them when their album came out was a half-page interview in Decibel.  That just didn't cut it for me and I seriously doubt that it cut it for others that were interested in the band.  So I approached them for an interview (through Chris Bruni) and threw them I don't know, somewhere between 15 and 18 questions.  I get a great deal of satisfaction out of getting a little more in-depth with great bands that just aren't getting that coverage elsewhere.  I mean, you can probably find a million interviews with the bigger metal bands, the Dimmu Borgirs and Amon Amarths of the world.  At the same time, it can be very fulfilling to interview some of those bigger names that you respect… Fenriz and Chris Reifert come to mind for me personally.

There is something very special for me about connecting with others through this music and via the webzine, mainly because I do not have many "metal friends" in my real life. When I was younger I had a handful of friends that liked metal, but they either grew out of it or took it in a different direction, or I simply lost touch w/ them over the years. My wife loves metal (which is great!) and it's awesome to have someone to go to shows and talk about bands with at all times right here at home, but for a long time before that I was going to shows by myself and not really talking to/interacting with anyone or connecting with anyone who liked metal (I'm a pretty shy dude), so it's great for me to get a chance to have a dialogue with people from all over the world and in some instances befriend them through writing about the music I'm constantly obsessing over.

When you're being paid to write and you have to write about things you don't necessarily like/care about, you have to change your whole perspective.  As I said earlier when I wrote for my college paper, I would often have to "take one for the team" and write about a musician or band I had no interest in.  That's when you have to think about your readers, "I don't give a fuck about this nu-metal band that's coming to town, but there are a lot of kids out there who read this newspaper on the way to class that do".  In that environment you just have to put your readers before yourself and try to do the best you can with what you're given.  A lot of times I interviewed bands like that and they ended up being incredibly nice people, regardless of what I thought of their music, which generally speaking wasn't much.

In the latest article you posted on your site (about a trio of Norwegian black metal albums) you finished by saying, “Black metal is ultimately all about freedom.” Please expand on this statement, give us all of its possible (in your mind) meanings, the possible ramifications of such a statement. Tell us, also, about the experiences (listening or not) that have finally led you to this conclusion or belief. If this belief is any way a statement of new aesthetic or critical focus can it be applied in your writing? Do the beliefs or “ideologies” (I hate using that word, it usually never means anything in music) implied in musical movements have a reflection in the writing on that music? Can the beliefs filter across from one form of art to another? Do they always have to go together in order to mark a certain kind of necessary (perceived) solidarity between musician and writer?

A lot of people seemingly have this very narrow minded view of what black metal is.  I can understand why this is considering the number of clone bands in the the genre, all espousing a satanic worldview, all wearing spikes and corpsepaint, all ripping off Transilvanian Hunger or Nocturnal Poisoning wholesale.  But, if you push past all that bullshit, you'll find a very diverse and interesting genre.  Just take Mayhem, Dodheimsgard, Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord.  All four bands sound absolutely nothing alike, yet all four bands are black metal.  People think there is some black metal trve kvlt rulebook or something, but to me the only rule in black metal is that there are no rules.  I can't imagine a grindcore band or a death metal band creating an album as warped and diverse as “666 International” or as futuristic-sounding as what Thorns did with their self-titled debut or as fucked up and weird as Mayhem got with “Grand Declaration of War.”  In a lot of ways, black metal is a big "fuck you" to the rigidness of the other metal subgenres, but also a reaction to their lack of conviction.  I think black metal is the most passionate of the metal subgenres and that's one of the things that draws me to it.

I definitely think the ideology behind the music plays into the writing, especially with black metal. Satanism and black metal are so inextricably linked at this point, I'm extremely interested in exploring that. This is why in just about every interview I do with a black metal band I will ask them about what Satan means to them and how this is reflected in their music. Is black metal satanic by design?  Does black metal absolutely have to be satanic music?  Are those beliefs totally inseparable from the genre?  The answer seems to be a resounding yes on all counts, to my experience.  I find it fascinating that as musically diverse as black metal can be, it's all linked together by these beliefs, that satanism is the thread tying it all together.  I think that it probably is possible on some level to separate this out and write strictly about the music, but I think something very important would be lost if you attempted to do so.

Give me some of your predictions for metal in particular and all rock music in general. What trends that are current right now do you see persisting – I mean, throughout all parts of the “industry” and the style or aesthetics of the form itself. What would you like to see happen? What would you like to hear? What needs to change? We know that black metal helped, in part, to corrode and do away with death metal (which reacted to it in turn, absorbing it and changing), but what will happen now in the blank space after black metal? Is there any possibility for a new mass movement? Will we only see post-whatever bands that simply give in to ambiguity, nostalgia, confusion and anomie? Is there a chance for something completely new, fresh, vital? If so…how do you envision this coming about?

It seems like there is a lot of regression going on in metal right now.  Bands ripping off Mercyful Fate, bands ripping off Entombed, bands ripping off Incantation, etc.  A lot of it has to do with a new generation of kids exploring this stuff for the first time, and that part of it I think is great.  I like the idea that an album like Left Hand Path is timeless and kids today can get into it w/ the same enthusiasm as kids did when it came out.  The problem is that these kids don't seem to have an original bone in their bodies and are content to just shamelessly rehash what they're hearing from these classic bands.  It's pretty disappointing.  Now granted, I have absolutely no problem with bands working within established forms, as long as the level of craftsmanship is high.  But so many of these bands are just flat-out tribute acts.  I don't have time for anything so deliberately and self-consciously retro.

What metal needs is futurism and more cross-breeding of genres.  I'm not sure how that will be successfully achieved though.  I was hoping that Morbid Angel was going to light the way with some sort of crazy-ass techno/industrial/psych/death metal freakout music… but instead they put out an album that sounds like Marilyn Manson cast-offs, so we're going to have to look elsewhere.  I think bands like Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega are continuing to push black metal forward, but I sure don't hear very many forward-thinking death metal or grindcore bands, and there is no such thing as a forward-thinking doom band, that would defeat the entire purpose of doom.  I would like to note that I don't equate forward-thinking w/ technical, to me all this tech death coming out is just pure wank, "Hey! Look what we can do!"  I think the last really forward-thinking death metal album I heard was Gorguts' “Obscura” and not because it is technical, it's because everything about that album is so fucking abstract and alien, and yet it is still identifiable as death metal.

Standard rock music is completely fucking lost as far as I'm concerned.  I don't really think about it, because I've basically left modern rock music to rot, as everyone probably should.  If I wanna hear some good rock music, I'll stick with my Rush and KISS albums, thank you very much.  The only current band that can be even be remotely considered mainstream rock that I have even a shred of interest in is Mastodon.  I don't really think what they're doing is particularly groundbreaking by any means, but I am a fan of what they do.  I also like Queens of the Stone Age, again, nothing Earth-shattering, but just well-crafted music.

Lastly, can you tell us about your own ambition when it comes to your writing? How often do you reflect on your own writing, what would you like to change, maybe improve? What would you eventually like to see happen with THKD? Do you write in other styles or genres - does your writing appear outside of journalism? If not, would you like to explore doing this? Thank you so much for doing this interview!

My ambitions are pretty simple really.  With THKD, I'm mostly just looking to provide a lasting chronicle of the music that moves me, and to hopefully turn some others on to it.  I like the idea of helping out the bands/artists I love or am friends with by giving them the spotlight and hopefully giving something back to the people that have provided me with all this great music.  Also, I hope that my writing inspires discussion, or at the very least inspires people to think more deeply about whatever they're listening to.

I do reflect on my own writing fairly often.  I like to go back and read my own work in order to gauge how I've evolved and changed as a writer.  There is a lot my old stuff floating around out there that makes me absolutely cringe, but I think we all need to subject ourselves to that from time to time, so we don't get lazy and fall back into bad habits or repeat ourselves.  I know I still have plenty of room for improvement I think a good writer is always looking for ways to improve their work.  Lately I've been concentrating on streamlining my writing, trying to make it more simple and concise.  I look at Ernest Hemingway, and he could say more with a five word sentence than most writers say over the course of an entire book.  That's the kind of thing I'm striving for.  I've also always thought that my interviewing skills leave a lot to be desired, so I'm always trying to improve on that, coming up with more thoughtful, interesting questions and trying not to fall back on the obvious questions that everyone else is asking.

At the moment THKD is my only outlet for writing.  I don't really have time for much else and I don't write about other genres of music because I simply don't find them as inspiring as heavy/aggressive music is.  I do have a horror novel that I've been working on off and on for the better part of a year but am not too far into, and some other fictional stuff that I've pretty much abandoned.  I'm just not sure that I'm cut out to write fiction, but I do enjoy doing it from time to time.  THKD is enough to keep me content.

Thank you very much for the interview!  It's been a lot of fun!

 UA – 051511