It was another year of eagerly trying to replace digits on the balance with compositions of sound that wouldn't be instantly recognisable to the cochlea. And not only sounds but emotional make-ups with a distortive element: Joy that is strong precisely because it is suggestive. Aggression found in the less obviously frenetic. Darkness that isn’t just black magic paint smeared all over. The long road to the simplest of reliefs. The musical equivalents of The Slap. Pop intertwined with Stop.
I don’t think I quite found the music I was looking for this year but the search did produce a significant number of genuinely good albums by household favourites and previously unidentified conjurers. What these works communicated with some gravity is that notions of genre have very little to do with the inner character of music. Moreover, 2013 further clarified the sentiment that juxtapositions between the "organic" and the "electronic" in music are tedious and, more often than not, misguided to begin with. When a specific sound is untraceable to any particular instrument or effect, it has the tendency to become all the more intriguing. Structure is crucial. Thanks to Antti (The Serpent Bearer) and Geoff (The Asgard Root) for the introduction of some very interesting bodies of music.
1. THE KNIFE Shaking the Habitual
2. THE NATIONAL Trouble Will Find Me
3. PIMEYS Muut on jo menneet
4. BOARDS OF CANADA Tomorrow’s Harvest
5. FOREST SWORDS Engravings
6. TIM HECKER Virgins
7. DAFT PUNK Random Access Memories
8. SUOMEN TULLI Kolme kevättä
9. MINÄ JA VILLE AHONEN Mia
10. MATTI JOHANNES KOIVU Matti Johannes Koivu
11. BEASTMILK Climax
12. IN SOLITUDE Sister
13. JÄTKÄJÄTKÄT Marian sairaala
14. HAIM Days Are Gone
15. JAAKKO & JAY Rauha
16. SMALL HOUSES Exactly Where You Wanted to Be
17. THE RUINS OF BEVERAST Blood Vaults
18. ULVER Messe I.X-VI.X
19. RIITAOJA Mantereelle
20. STEVE IVANDER Olen musta
21. RUGER HAUER Ukraina
22. SOKEA PISTE Välikäsi
23. HIDDEN MASTERS Of This & Other Worlds
24. ARCADE FIRE Reflektor
25. RISTO II
26. IRON & WINE Ghost on Ghost
27. JULIA HOLTER Loud City Song
28. PAAVOHARJU Joko sinä tulet tänne alas tai minä nousen sinne
29. JEX THOTH Blood Moon Rise
30. SAMMAL Sammal
31. EURO CRACK Huume
32. VORUM Poisoned Void
33. TAX Paximus Maximus
34. ASA Foetida – Use Your Illusion III
35. DEATH HAWKS Death Hawks
36. TALIB KWELI Prisoner of Conscious
37. JALAVA Näin muistan meidät
38. JACCO GARDNER Cabinet of Curiosities
39. PMMP Matkalaulu
40. CHVRCHES The Bones of What You Believe
41. CIRCLE Six-Day Run
42. SIN COS TAN Afterlife
43. ROKIA TRAORÉ Beautiful Africa
44. PIKKU KUKKA Merelle
45. STERLING SISTERS Hale
46. FALCON Frontier
47. HELL Curse and Chapter
48. JANNE LAURILA & TUHLAAJAPOJAT s/t
49. ENFORCER Death by Fire
50. SPEEDTRAP Powerdose
51. CARCASS Surgical Steel
52. GUNS OF GLORY On the Way to Sin City
53. TRIBULATION The Formulas of Death
54. BATHS Obsidian
55. JESSY LANZA Pull My Hair Back
56. PUISET HEILAT Surrealistinen yönäytös
57. MUNLY & THE LEE LEWIS HARLOTS Munly & the Lee Lewis Harlots
58. JUMALHÄMÄRÄ Resitaali
59. MÖRKÖ Itsensä nimeävä
60. J. KARJALAINEN Et ole yksin
BALLET SCHOOL Boys Again
PAPERI T & KHID Ex Ovis Pullus Non Natis Serò Fit Ullus
YOUNG FATHERS Tape Two
MAGENTA SKYCODE We Will Be Warm
MØ Bikini Daze
PIPAR SISAR Ensimmäisenä kulkeva Tähti on sinun tähtesi
Christ Turned into Dust
Behind and after all the new age nostalgia, pining and avidity, the truth must be addressed: no matter what, the current overshadowers from Dimmu Borgir to The Sins Of Thy Beloved should not be entitled to aureoles of any kind, the least motive not being their dearth of experience. But that's just one consequence, or better, example of metal's decay. ChorazaiM of Canada's dearly held Megiddo is none of the same league. We summoned the man to join our abandonement, and it will remain for the future to see if the armoured words will make the superfluous ones bleed. Bring on the conservationists, lets cut down the trees. Timber.
To start from the beginning, why have we come along to this refurbishing situation? Why do we want to slay every black metal musician from the face of earth? Yes, I am asking you. I have my answer leaping hot-tempered like any television Reverend in my pocket, but to fill up to the job management brim, I am indeed asking you. Where did it go wrong? Who are we to blame? For my god's sake, seeing 13-year olds lecturing about black metal isn't rare of a sight in any proportions; not anymore, not in minimal annoyance.
ChorazaiM, respectively 30 years of life experience behind his back, becomes a member of the thus-far monologuesque discussion, "As it pertains to modern black metal exclusively, it all went terribly wrong starting with the Satan's Cheerleaders article in Spin magazine."
Burn Darcey Steinke at the stake.
"Before that point, black metal was still relatively underground, even if it was growing at a rather quick pace back then, but the above article really brought black metal to the attention of the masses - at least in North America - and that opened up the proverbial can of worms of which the results are still being felt today - such as labels being willing to sign any group of teenagers who happen to wear corpse paint and have the obligatory amount of medieval weaponry being displayed. But as far as younger kids listening to black metal, seeing themselves as authorities on it, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera... this is hardly a new phenomena: I myself was listening to this stuff by the age of 13 or 14, and I was also in my first band at 15 years of age. I think it has more to do with the level of enthusiasm one has - when you're young, everything seems to be a lot more vital - due to your own lack of experience, and so you tend to jump head-first into things, such as forming a band, or trying to become a walking, talking encyclopedia on black metal - there's nothing wrong with this in and of itself, but the problem is that a lot of the younger fans are blind to the fact that this isn't their phenomena - it's been going on for almost two decades, and no matter how much they want to believe this is something which belongs to them, they're merely the latest crop in a reaping that is decades old."
An issue attempts to rise here: if he, as firm as the previous answer was, really keeps well-balanced on tandem with the keys, then how (or rather why) has Megiddo kept waiting for itself for such a quantative amount of sand on the hourglass? Didn't black metal find Canada or didn't ChorazaiM find black metal? When pricks from Larry Lalonde to Satyr of Satyricon wanted to play, they didn't hesitate for fucking decades to get things going.
"The reason for this is because while I've been writing and working on Megiddo material for several years, it's only recently that I've actually allowed it to rise to the surface. Part of this was not within my control, such as the numerous technical problems I had getting the first demo recorded, but another part is the fact that I'm a perfectionist and I had no desire to release sub-standard product just to glorify my own ego, and I felt it far wiser a choice to release a quality product - even if it meant taking two years - versus releasing something which would prove to be an embarrassment to me further down the road...so it's neither a case of Canada finding black metal - we've had our fair share of bands over the ages, the most well known of which is probably Blasphemy - nor myself finding black metal - of which I've been listening to since the early 80s."
That's nice. Though the last one was moreso a rethoric question, mind you. Oh well.
Then why, why in the name of the Damned, 'Unholy Hateful Black Pentagram Metal'?
"Actually, it wasn't myself who came up with this particular slogan - it was coined by someone at Berzerkr zine reviewing the Hymns To The Apocalypse demo, and as I felt it was an appropriate description, I adopted it. I suppose some may find the term a bit overblown and perhaps even close to being parody-like, but one listen to Megiddo should dispell such myths instantly. I also feel that besides being a most fitting description, it helps to separate Megiddo from the numerous black metal bands out there - The term black metal has become so all-encompassing that it no longer has the same connotations it used to, and as I didn't want to be lumped in with a lot of what is termed black metal today, I chose to use 'Unholy Hateful Black Pentagram Metal' instead..."
Not too far off from the above, black metal's only a marginal subject on ChorazaiM's musical scope - biased or unbiased. Perhaps in two years a time he's already rehashing Helloween under the Megiddo monicker? The world has seen empires falling, dominions collapsing when then-former heavy metal heroes have begun to practise introspection and self-examination, causing light-weight - tension heavy-weight - nausea to their apparently non-existent fanbase. From riches to rags, that's one way to express it I guess.
"That is an impossible scenario as I would never allow Megiddo to stray so far off course. Being a fan first and foremost, I'm very familiar with the disappointment and disgust one feels when a once mighty band has a radical shift in direction - usually attributed to 'musical growth' - and ends up producing utter shite, and I would sooner disband than go down that road myself. If I ever felt the desire to produce something different from what Megiddo does now, I would simply start another project (which would almost be a novelty in itself considering how many of these so-called 'projects' sound like nothing more than inferior versions of the bands they shot off from to begin with)."
A novelty as in being something new? Oh please. Metal's already choking on these quagmire 'projects'. One positive side therein; these project want-ins seldom bother us for as long as the so-called real orchestras. 20 years is a long time for a useless band to churn out material for. To announce it once more, ChorazaiM speaks:
"Megiddo will only exist as long as I feel I can produce material at the same level of quality that I do now - after all, why continue on flogging a dead horse and releasing inferior product like so many of the greats from the past have done - I'd rather let Megiddo die an honourable death than simply become a 'paint by the numbers' affair, or even worse, release an equivalent to Cold Lake. As for trying to picture what I'll be doing when I reach my fifties - I've no idea, but anything is possible... look at Lemmy!"
I'd prefer not to.
"- I've only become active again in the underground in the last few years, having dropped out of it when the generic death metal of the late 80s forced me to lose all interest in it, but these days I do find myself once again spending quite a lot of time either answer mail, working on new material, or maintaining LARM (http://larm.cjb.net) - whether or not that makes me part of the underground or not is an individual judgment call I suppose..."
Yes, that LARM thing. Were it only the undersigned and the interviewee reading this interview later on I could maybe devote an ounce of something to foolness by spouting a little this and that about LARM - like why to keep those horridly blunt reviewers in the game - but for the most, I guess, this vague publication will be read by people who have no interest whatsoever in that. And please, partly accuse me of this, too.
Fluency in History
From a man akin to this easy-going Torontoan here - I believe 'mad Canadian' wouldn't be very fitting a description - in all likelihood, you're not to hear foul notations when it comes to the times of apparent grace, 1980s. That, of course, won't make him any more orthodox or correct than glib renaissance-trashers from A to Z, but at least he's been on the scene of the happening. Or, that's where he tries to lead us to anyway.
"I believe I first heard of Hellhammer through reviews of their demos in Metal Forces zine, and my logic was that anything which inspired such hatred from the reviewer must surely be worth checking out! So through tape trading I managed to get both their second demo as well as the Apocalyptic Raids ep, and those two items along with the first Bathory album and first Sodom ep really changed my entire view on what metal could achieve. Of course there were many other bands which also had an early influence on me, such as Venom, Destruction, et cetera, but it would take far too long to list them all, and it was really the unholy trinity of Hellhammer - Bathory - Sodom that forever forged my direction."
Now we're also able to reminisce the 90s as something dead stuck on a spear-head, and our black haired man is none different from the others, taking a gander as soon as I let him.
"The 90s had some great bands as well - do I really even need to bring up Darkthrone, Burzum, Countess, Ildjarn, etc.? - and these are the bands that helped inspire me to pick up my old guitar and start playing black metal again, after a very long hiatus, but their actual impact on the sound of Megiddo is minimal - what they helped bring out was the desire to once again write, and they influenced the aesthetics of the music to a lesser degree, but musically I think I share more common ground with the traditional/old school bands."
The guy even continues, 'now what if you could obtain a metal time machine, to what year would you travel?'
"Simple - 1984, and this time machine would preferably also be able to transport me to Germany as well, so that I could bask in the glory of seeing some of the greatest metal bands ever - namely Sodom, Destruction, Kreator, etc) live during their formative - and best - years..."
How cuddlesome, now he's already reminding Euronymous, 'The king of all chuffs, not by bad means'. If you could only snug in a few more 'sodoms', 'kreators', 'destructions' and 'the ancient ones'... Well yeah okay then, say.
Thus onwards, I believe that money does no good to anyone, the least for these 'ancient ones', who still, irony or double-irony, boasted in money.
"Money, as you said 'does no good to anyone', and therefore has no place in black metal as far as I'm concerned. Considering that black metal was never about big budget productions and was never meant for mass-consumption, there is no reason for bands to hold out for more lucrative contracts save for their own personal greed - and once greed becomes a factor in how you go about things, you cease to be a part of 'the underground' and become just another wheel in the machine of consumerism. This isn't to say that no black metal band should ever make money, but it should never enter into one's thinking - any profit made should be seen as a 'bonus', and not as an expected reward."
At this point it seems appropriate to say that the man's right. But isn't it that with the best of the bands the question has never risen to be worth enquiring? Who was to ask Mercyful Fate if they had earned stacks of dollars after the release of Don't Break The Oath? It's too obvious one placing things like that above for instance King's horrifyingly eerie lyrics would not be metal at heart, really. What there is to authoritative lyrics anyway? It's been seemingly easy for most of heavy metal's heroes, but it evidently can't be just a one-off 'no problem' thing. Especially with all these 'epic dragon metal' banners thrown across and back. The same goes for black metal - as in satanically oriented music - also.
"It has more to do with sincerity than authority in my opinion - if you're writing about something you feel strongly about, and you manage to stay within your own 'voice', then the lyrics will work - but if you try to write lyrics from a certain perspective or angle because it happens to be what's in vogue at the moment, you'll end up producing tripe. A lot of people complain about the over-usage of satanic imagery, and that it's been done to death, or that it doesn't really represent anything because Satan is a judeo-christian ideal, but those people are missing the point - overdone or not, if the emotions behind the lyrics are sincere, then why not employ the imagery? And are those who claim Satan and satanic lyrics, meaningless because it stems from the judeo-christian belief system, doing anything other than simply giving up an icon? Does hatred for christianity became any less ferocious when it's proclaimed under the name of Satan than it does when it's proclaimed under the name of Odhinn or any other icon? Black metal is meant to be anti-christian and satanic to begin with, so all of these pseudo black metal bands who prefer to sing about how lovely it might be to frolic in the meadowlands after the morning dew has fallen should coin themselves a new term and leave black metal to those who will stand firm as the vanguards of a new satanic age."
The Underground Pets
You know, I have just about everything against America. They probably hold the same grudge against me too, but that's something I don't bother to care for. Their music is somewhat of the worst calibre. A few good examples from the top of my mind ride Morbid Angel, Danzig, Autopsy, Death, Manowar and Deicide, but these bands have more or less started running low on gasoline after '90-'92. The bad examples are totally out of control and hence impossible to even start mentioning. There's little to hold the American flag high up again for, and even less when out-counting the likes of Novembers Doom, Agalloch, December Wolves, even Virgin Steele (disillusioned old chumps). No offense to anyone from Qvadrivivm reader Drew to Mr. Nieman of Eternal Frost, but I just find America too depressing. And please, do leave the US black metal out of discussion. Leave it.
I was incorrectly thinking ChorazaiM would have an idea on this, but I was wrong, or so it seems. An answer to one rubbish society-related question has been cut out of the way, if you're wondering.
"... As to why there aren't very many good American black metal bands - I disagree. I think there are quite a few good American bands, but they're relatively obscure as the only ones that seem to get any international recognition are the worthless bands that insincere labels have picked up in hopes of making a quick dollar off of, but I suppose that could be said of any country really."
Pardon me. I'll point out something he opinioned earlier on, in which I see a great deal of contradiction with what was said just now. On this light it comes out flurrying, this, relating to my question number 16: "Is it not a bit peculiar that no matter where we look upon on this world, every corner of the earth always regards it's scene as the best one? Friendship and relations have destroyed objectivity for good, it appears, and this holds pretty much everything inside: the bands, 'labels', zines... One would guess Megiddo has little to do with all this."
Spell me 'conflict' then, alongside these answering-lines: "... I would say that I'm in agreement with you that there seem to be a lot of people who suffer from this syndrome of flying a particular flag based more on friendships than musical validity, but those people would be fairly easy to spot I would wager - their bias would shine through their facades...""
I'm sorry, but I am a little more than confused now. Then, let me ask, what was the praising of the American black metal underground, if not just subjectivity up to a frightening par? I'll keep my stance nevertheless, until black metal equivalents to god's gifts from Winter to Massacre will appear. US black metal sucks goat balls to a very a high line - and I mean a VERY HIGH line.
Black metal went through an interesting metamorphosis a couple of years back; the bands became technical (sometimes overly so) and the ideology got totally lost. What does ChorazaiM have to say about this? Megiddo's quite a primitive band/project - and your vision seems to be on the healthy side of things - so, in conclusion, you're kind of walking against the scene.
"I suppose I'm going against the grain, but there has always been this seething underbelly of more primitive and traditional black metal going on - it's just not as well known. The ideology became lost because people were being exposed to black metal without having a real understanding of what it represents, and so they look at it in a very superficial way and say 'hey, it's just like death metal but with high pitched screechy vocals, and instead of singing about chopping people up or zombies rising from the dead, we'll sing about lesbian vampires and praise the mighty forest'. And now that this sort of stupidity is being labelled as black metal by equally uninformed fans who have only recently discovered this type of music, it's turned into a case of the blind leading the blind."
And, why did black metal become so technical after all? Some say 'twas because there were more bands and the competition was harder, but is that so, all in all?
"I don't believe it was competition that caused the rise in the technical playing level of black metal, no. Part of it could be attributed to the fact that a lot of these bands couldn't really play 'properly' when they started out, but with the passage of time they became more and more proficient, hence the music becoming more complex - the 'I do it because I can' syndrome. Another factor was that with the wide spread exposure of black metal, people who had previous experience and influences from other more technical genres have incorporated those elements into the music."
Speaking of it all day long, please tell me that there is no 'black metal scene' in Canada.
"There are other black metal bands in Canada, but whether or not this constitutes a 'scene' - especially considering the relatively small number of bands in such a large country - is rather debatable. I've heard of another black metal band in the same city I live in, but I've no desire to forge some sort of alliance based simply on geographical location."
... "In the name of musical honesty, I would sooner see myself working in a janitorial capacity rather than allow Megiddo to become compromised or another whored-out commodity of the consumer market"...
Being the impatient person I am, I was heedless enough to present some non-insightful questions, so say bye-bye to Vincent Crowley, Jon & Vlad, the immigrant situation in Canada, Unsung Heroes Records, Sadistik Exekution/Rok, darwinism in the evolution of Heavy Metal, zine editors and a lot of text in form of answers. And the man didn't even find words to phrase what he thinks being an oxymoron is like. Still, all's well that ends well.
My Flying Bride
We already know that Aaron Stainthorpe finds women more interesting to chat with than men. Time for some extracurricular information. Having spent his childhood in Germany and toured with My Dying Bride for all his adult life, Aaron is an internationally-minded person. Not the typical Briton who throws a nationalistic, post-imperialist sneer at everything not domestic. You know, Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium, etc.
“Growing up in a foreign country, it didn’t seem weird at the time but it’s quite unusual when I look back on it,” Stainthorpe reminisces. “It made me so much more tolerant of other cultures. It’s also one of the reasons why I sometimes use foreign languages in My Dying Bride’s lyrics. I’m not afraid to call myself a European. Because we live on an island, a lot of British people don’t like foreigners. It’s a silly thing but I guess most communities that live on an island see the outside world as an unusual place full of weirdos. For me, I came back to England after twelve years. Most of my early school days and learning was done in Germany. Coming back to England was very unusual because Germans are very tolerant and open-minded. When I came back to England I found communities that were very insular. Even though England is a small place, people from Liverpool don’t like people from Leeds, and they’re only thirty miles apart. It’s very tribal. I just thought this is bloody crazy!
“I never imagined being in a band when I was younger but now, I love that we do get to travel to many different countries. I enter a new country very warmly. Doing it the British way and going to holiday on Ibiza or something just isn’t the same. We’ve worked in many countries and we’ve loved it. Even Andrew, who was born and bred in Yorkshire. As a typical British person, his only experience of foreign cultures is going to Teneriffe during summertime for a week. Now, in the band he’s become much more tolerant and open-minded of other societies, cultures and religions. It’s funny because when he talks with his grandparents, they’ve never even left Yorkshire, never mind England! They talk to him like he’s been to the moon or something. They find it very interesting but they still say, ‘Oh, there’s nothing there for us’, which is a bit of a sad thing to say, heh. I love travelling and foreign cultures and absorbing other people’s society.”
The Source of the Emotion
I think music is always emotion,” says Maik Knappe, guitarist of German progressive dark metallers Dark Suns. “Often bands deal with only one and that is the point—to show more of yourself than anger or joy (in the sense of ‘party music’; most metal bands make party music). A human being has also got times of sorrow, despair, love and hate. Music is that which is flowing from our hearts, so it would be a strange thing to suppress the feelings you are dealing with every day, wouldn’t it?”
Progressive dark metallers. This is a concept they shoved down my throat. The larynx felt awkwardly about this brew of words from the beginning, never becoming bedfellows with it. Although Maik helpfully suggests that somebody might also call Dark Suns’ music ‘emotional rock with metal influences’, the term doesn’t make the soreness of the voice box vanish. Soundgarden, Tori Amos, Faith No More, Pain of Salvation, Porcupine Tree, Tool… Yes, yes, all central influences, sure. Don’t come to my mind upon listening to Swanlike, the German quintet’s debut (and only agreeable) album, though.
Based on their full-length entrance, I envision Dark Suns in a more old-fashioned way; in the sense of two boys meeting, rehearsing in a small cubicle and all of a sudden coming up with doomy riffs they don’t understand the source of. In Dark Suns’ case, those two boys were Tobias Gommlich and Niko Knappe, Maik’s brother. The year was 1997. They too were taken aback by the arrival of the riffs, as there was no place for them in their previous bands. That’s when the inauguration of Dark Suns came into the picture. As with any other band of their sort, a demonstration effort with a suitably gloomy title was the next thing in line. That release was Below Dark Illusion, and this was when Maik Knappe was lured into the band—simply because he was sitting in the rehearsal room often enough.
Gothically inclined doom with notable pinches of classy romanticism and deathy inspiration, that’s what Dark Suns are, regardless of all the harbourings of Opeth and Katatonia they entertain in their songs. It’s ‘Bridelicious. Cinders of burnt paradise glow in the ligaments. At its best Swanlike is a vortex; a hermeneutic circle with the hermeneutics replaced with cyclical reverberations of thunder and calm. At its worst it is watered down Britain and over-expressive Krautland. I even thought it was Stainthorpe who did the vocals on “Suffering”. Maik confirms that the only contact Dark Suns have had with Aaron was having him watch them live on stage. Hmm. Perhaps I should step up on my pre-interview research or hire myself an assistant.
At any rate, Dark Suns circa Swanlike are better than the deadbeat constituents of their plan A suggest. If you’ve heard one too many of the dreary MDB clones wallowing down in their all-encompassing dumps, and walked through more than your share of wrecked Teutonic adult angst, here is a band you should place next to Novembers Doom and Morgion as a prime example of sophisticated style and unerring taste.
If Swanlike is Dark Suns’ Turn Loose the Swans, I cannot wait to hear their 34.788%… Complete. After two more albums, the wait goes on. Maik claims the successor to Swanlike, carrying the grandiose title Existence, is ‘very different to Swanlike’. Supposedly, it ought to be stirring up our brains. If you go for icky Pain of Salvation and Dream Theater concoctions, maybe that is what it does for you. Dark Suns are obviously hooked on progress.
“We try to leave the common paths of creating a song, playing a rhythm or setting a structure,” Maik envisions. “I think there are too many bands that always have the same recipe in composing; in our eyes it’s not creative—it’s not a question of how many tones I can play in thirty seconds or shit like that. Music should be colourful and we try not to always take black.
“Today, I cannot imagine writing songs that are like Swanlike, and in the future the ideas will be different to the stuff we will get on the next album. Remind me if that’s not the way, because almost every band says these things but often there is not much more to explore as new. We’ll do our best!”
This, presumably, is why Dark Suns spend most of their time in the rehearsal room at present. “It is great to have a lot to do—somehow Dark Suns determines our life and I love it!” Maik rejoices.
No better way to end than that.
On the Way Back from Space
IT’S A complete fairy tale that Greek metal would have faced deterioration in line with the decline of the country’s most important metal exponents, Rotting Christ. What’s more, it’s a complete myth that the ‘Christ ever took a fall. Listening to “If It Ends Tomorrow”, a song on par with the best tracks Sakis & co. ever penned, I can see it now. Witnessing them live a couple of times with Theogonia validates the opinion. And yes, recalling throwing many a whinging comment at the band, I do feel abashed. Truth is, many of the warm peninsular sights and sounds of Greek metal are nowhere as clear as in the unyielding musical backbones of those who craft it today. The glow and shining Plotinus was after, it still lies in there. Surprise yourself and find it.
However, this is not the time and place to argument for or against Greek metal of the day, so I should take the Rotting Christ CD out of the player and replace it with On Thorns I Lay’s Angeldust. When you listen to Angeldust, you can be certain to find many of their lifelines to the more vicious edge of metal severed. However, it’s good, not to mention easy, to break the ice by way of going back to days of yore and bring up all those long-lived names: Rotting Christ, Varathron, Necromantia, Nightfall, Septic Flesh… At one point, situated among these names were Paralysis and Phlebotomy, the predecessors of On Thorns I Lay.
“Our band’s first name was Paralysis and it was changed to Phlebotomy after recording our first demo song,” Minas, guitarist of On Thorns I Lay, informs. “Later on we released our first album as On Thorns I Lay [1995’s Sounds of Beautiful Experience]. As far as we can remember these were unforgettable and kind of romantic times, days when we created music blinded by passion. Looking back we would say that we are proud of that particular period of our lives. On the other hand, things haven’t changed dramatically throughout these years up to now; it is only that we are more mature and less impulsive. We carry a bit of experience having played all these years and jammed or co-operated with other Greek bands like Septic Flesh, Nightfall, et cetera. We had great times with the guys and we are still good friends.”
I wonder if this friendship goes hand in hand with what I read in one interview with On Thorns I Lay from 1997, which you concluded with the words, “Fight for death metal, stay underground, stay away from all techno, sleaze, funk, poseurs and other bullshit.” Perhaps not.
“Well… it was six years ago and we were more impulsive then than we are now,” Minas hesitantly responds. “Today, I’d say that we don’t prefer that kind or music but we always keep our ears open because beauty can be found in many places. We listen to death metal but mostly it’s atmospheric metal, post rock and other stuff that we go for, bands like Tool and Massive Attack.”
The early On Thorns I Lay material, up until Crystal Tears, was textured and complex in its nature. It was exotic, avant-garde, very expansive and easily looked upon as academically dry and pedantic by those who didn’t care for it. Seeing as the atmospheric and melancholic Angeldust comes to conquer the listener with rather bare arrangements, streamlined compositions and plain instrumentation which lean very strongly on straightforward rock aesthetics, there must have been a turning point at some dusty corner in the late 90s that made the band think in a fresh way towards their creation. Something must have instilled confidence into them. Viewing Angeldust from a more conservative angle, the new influences may hint of some adherence to the mindsets of such metal groups as Katatonia and Paradise Lost, but more importantly, they also gaze towards a whole new slew of bands such as Slowdive, Dinosaur Jr, even The Posies.
“We hope that change will always come about!” Minas exclaims, replying to my question about how the shift in focus reached On Thorns I Lay. “That shows that we are still alive and evolving. You are well aimed referring to the Katatonia style that has influenced us the most. We decided to let it show on Angeldust even though it showed a lack of originality. We love groups like Katatonia, Lacuna Coil, Tiamat, The Gathering and we really wanted to try their musical aspect in our creations.”
The guitarist speaks in a brave tongue. When I further molest him about the obvious Katatonia influences, more than amply displayed on the tracks “Sick Screams”, “Independence” and “Deep Thoughts”, the man remains light-minded and candid. “We are badly influenced, aren’t we?” he quips. “Maybe we went too far, I don’t know, but we enjoyed it after all. It is what it is, man.”
As with any band abandoning their early style and aspiring to become something a bit more refined, On Thorns I Lay have lost some of the fans who wrote the letter, bought the demo and wore the patch. Some have considered Future Narcotic and Angeldust the equivalents of autistic crap, while some have shrouded their dislike of the band’s newer material with a diplomatic silence. All the same, the albums have met with some strong resistance. Minas’ attitude to receiving flak for the reason of musical evolution is one that showcases level-headed artistic integrity.
“Autistic crap? Ok, that’s a new one! Anyway, we respect the audience but obviously we don’t agree. We never promised to play music in order to satisfy everybody’s autistic needs but we promised ourselves to be frank and straightforward with our decisions. In other words we are not afraid to test new styles (which, finally, are not that far from our musical roots) and expose them to the audience even if that means that we lose popularity. The hell with it! We did something different, it might be bullshit or it might be a success, but at least we tried. It’s embarrassing for me to see my beloved groups playing the same shit for years. They are either in it for the money or they just have nothing to say! Everyone should understand that ‘change’ is one of the most vital components in life; otherwise we’d still be monkeys!”
If there’s one thing that struck a chord with me about Angeldust in the beginning, it was the simplicity that seemed so natural and unforced. The album really doesn’t try to be anything bigger than it is, and this is where it seems to owe quite a bit to the theme any 24/7 beery and beardy metal head would gladly give away to his 7-11 fashion buff counterpart. That theme, friends, is pop-sensibility.
Minas is a bit wary of the word, too. “We didn’t try to make something popular in order to gain more publicity,” he states. “It is simply because we wanted to interpose simplicity in metal music as a point of view. Sometimes complexity in music gives us the feeling of an advanced musical skill when straightforwardness reminds us of store-bought products, but this is not necessary. I recall attending live performances of well-known virtuoso artists and running away from the place 30 minutes after, feeling tired and exhausted by their fury for musical acrobacy. Then I remember having such a nice time in other gigs being able to sing along with the singer, dancing, jumping and what have you just because the artists didn’t show up as exhibitionists but as simple fans. I don’t consider myself a great musician and I’ll never be a virtuoso because I don’t have the skills to become one but I am sure that I can pick out the genuine artist from a bunch of show-offs. So, I could say that I’m calling upon everyone who plays music to be more loose and simple and I think that Angeldust expresses this invitation.”
“Every season we fight like hell” – On Thorns I Lay, “Angeldust”
MUSICALLY, Angeldust is rather uniform in shape, colour and style, which isn’t perhaps such a surprise when you consider that everything on it was composed by one man, Chris Dragmestianos. Minas tells prevailing dictatorially over the song-writing process was pretty much the only thing for Chris to do when the album was recorded in Bucharest, Romania. He likes to point out, however, that the next album Egocentric, which was recorded in Greece, gave the band a new batch of opportunities for teamwork. For one, this time they could all participate in the recordings. Astonishing, huh? Even though the members of On Thorns I Lay live within the borders of Greece, their chances for jamming together are slim. “We hope that we could meet more often,” Minas confesses in all modesty. Fair enough.
“We truly love playing, recording and creating music,” the guitarist continues. “We couldn’t stand alive and healthy without the anxiety of a live performance and we have found a unique way to express our emotions loudly. We don’t have much spare time but we always manage to steal some for the band.
“Chris and Stefanos got their degrees in medicine, so did I in chemistry, and Fotis runs his own firm in the fire distinguishing business! Now, Chris lives in Kalamata (200 kilometres from Athens), Minas in Ioannina (450 kilometres from Athens), Stefanos will leave Athens in a month or so and Fotis stays in Athens. Fuck it! But we’ll manage. It’s not just the band’s name or some money we are lucky enough to gain from our sales that is important, it’s our genuine passion that hasn’t left us from the early days up to date. This passion has not only to do with music but with the way of living and how we organize it.”
There’s an interesting sentence in the booklet of Angeldust, which has Stefanos claiming that in the year 2001 the band was ‘lost in space’. Let’s expound on that. How was the year 2001 for you, as a band and as individuals? How about the years following it?
“Stefanos is still lost in space!” Minas makes the point of telling me. “During 2001 we did a lot of drugs and a lot of drinking, that’s all. In fact we have a song on our new album dedicated to that period of our lives and it is called “Psychic Days”. It starts with the phrase ‘All there is now is bars, drugs and parties…’ which is taken from an advertising poster of the movie Human Traffic. To be frank, the inspiration came exclusively from that particular poster. On the contrary, 2002 was the year of reconstruction and creativity. We started rehearsing systematically, writing songs, and making plans for our lives and the band. We cooled down, got off the hook and got ready for 2003, which is going to be tough and gruelling because of the live performances, travelling and all the things that will have to be done in order to promote our new work.”
On Thorns I Lay’s music revolves to a fairly high degree round the strong emotional content it has, and this is something the libretto never fail to take part in. The listening experience is a wholesome reality, which has a tendency to draw strength from rather disheartening elements.
“Our whole creation is based on strong emotions,” Minas asserts. “Unlike other Greek groups we are more interested in social issues, daily and, for some, prosaic matters like people communication, depressive thoughts and so forth. We believe that our day-to-day life is all there is and even though God and the Devil might be more interesting or exotic we prefer to stay ordinary and within the real world, seeking and sometimes finding.”
With Minas, we also dab on the hype there was about On Thorns I Lay a couple of years ago when they were on Holy Records. First this hype subsided and then it seemed to die out altogether. Why so?
“It’s because Holy distributes in your country while BLR doesn’t.” In fact, this is not the reason. Black Lotus is distributed in Finland by Firebox Records. “Anyway, we couldn’t make interesting agreements anymore with Holy and we had some communication and understanding problems… Finally, we decided that it would be better to work with a smaller company from our hometown. Up to now things are going pretty well and we are satisfied with the work that is being done. However, we are planning on hiring a promoter outside the firm for better advertising, circulation, gigs, et cetera.”
The interview ends halfway through, but that is where all the best things end.
Underdogs at the Sea
Underrated bands customarily have one common feature about them, and that is that they never come or go at the command of magazines. There is no flaming ‘return’ with the new album, no long awaited ‘reunion’ or headliner tour ‘comeback’ welcomed by thousands upon thousands of screaming fans. These bands merely are until they are no longer, with little additional noises. The only other thing you may distinguish is a small fadeout at the end. No newsbreaks, no biweekly information rundowns, zilch.
Novembre, long-running melodic metallers from Rome, Italy, are an underrated band. I was reminded of this rather cheerless fact when the industrious people at Spinefarm were offering Novembre phoners some years ago. Having very much enjoyed the fluent and freshly melodicised Novembrine Waltz, I placed my request, thinking that I would get an agreeable chat with one of the Novembre members on the spirals, frills and noodles of that album. I had no idea the band were just about to release their following album, the remake of the 1995 debut Wish I Could Dream It Again… called Dreams d’Azur. Fortunately, somebody told me about this a few days before the interview and also directed me a copy of said album. Had it been the new Cradle of Filth record in question, I’m sure it would have been escorted into the country by the RAF, with Kerrang! and Metal Hammer hyping it up for months in advance, and I would have known about it for a long while ere any interviews. That’s not how it works with these Italians. Strangely, they still encourage exchanging their music over the Internet.
“Honestly, we don’t care if you buy the album or if you download it!” exclaims Carmelo Orlando, vocalist/guitarist of Novembre. “It is a label thing; we as artists care about the fact that people like the songs. We don’t care about selling and all that, even if I understand that sales are important… But still, what can you do. The prices are far too high and I understand that.”
The price can hardly be too high for a Novembre release pre-2005. They deliver class and elegance in spades. The ethereal flow of their music, quite different in comparison to the dominant moods of other melodic ‘death metal’ bands, is not far from ideal. Carmelo finds it hard to give reasons for the individual nature of Novembre.
“What can I say? We try to make our music. We probably have more influences than many other bands. There are many bands around who play melodic death metal with keyboards and female vocals but I don’t really think that all of these bands will listen to things like Dead Can Dance or Tori Amos. Maybe that is something we have more, that we are really into other kinds of music, and you can somehow feel the influences in us. I’m crazy for Radiohead, U2, The Cure the same as I’m crazy for Paradise Lost, Anathema or Opeth. So you can find many things altogether in it. Perhaps we have a very loose background.”
The lyrical expressions Novembre decorate their music with also revolve round pretty elastic matters, often expounding on dreams and images of sea. When it’s again time to explicate this, much like with the music, Carmelo sees himself as the creator and artist, not the interpreter.
“I’m not a psychologist so I can’t explain it. I just try to write the lines following my recollections, memories, feelings and dreams. I try to find the words inside of me instead of the outside. I’m not the guy who reads books and steals someone else’s writings. Sometimes people ask me what kind of books I read, but I don’t read books because I’m really lazy. I can’t read, really. I listen to loads of music and read the lyrics of other bands. I’m not able to give you any deeper explanation.”
What he can talk about, as one of the founding fathers of the pre-Novembre Catacomb, are the differences between Italian metal as of way back when and today.
“I do remember that it was a real hard time for Italian bands back then. We only had Necrodeath and Schizo and they were known and worshipped only in the underground. They never really had the place and the time. Now there are bands like Lacuna Coil who sell lots of records. You may or may not like their music but you must admit they’re really well known everywhere, having American tours etc. The level of Italian metal has improved a lot since the time we begun.”
Releases by Altar of Perversion, VII Arcano, Illogicist, Spite Extreme Wing, Forgotten Tomb and Greyswan, among others, will tell you the same, dear cynical reader. Hmm. I have a weird feeling in my stomach. Could it be that Novembre have just released another album? Maybe two?