tiistai 29. marraskuuta 2011

Antimatter - About Leaving

I've had the opportunity to interview the outstanding Antimatter twice, but the reason these two old interviews are published as November is turning to December, is that this time in 2009 my band Subaudition had the great honour to play live with Antimatter and Lisa Cuthbert on their Finnish mini-tour. Last year saw the release of the retrospective Alternative Matter compilation, which gave us fans yet another angle to approach the band from. Even though both Mick Moss and Duncan Patterson participated on the tour, Antimatter has officially been Moss' solo project since Patterson left the band in 2005, after the release of Planetary Confinement. The wait after Leaving Eden from 2007 is slowly coming to an end, with the forthcoming fifth album tentatively entitled 'Wide Awake In The Concrete Asylum,' but while we wait, do read these two interviews which were originally published in the Finnish Imperiumi.net webzine.

"About Leaving"
An interview with Mick Moss and Duncan Patterson of Antimatter.
Originally published in Imperiumi.net, July 2005.
First of all, I’d like to congratulate you guys for making such a wonderful album. Last week there was news from Duncan regarding his departure from Antimatter. Please tell us some of the reasons that lie behind this decision. Moreover, I’d be interested to know how long ago Duncan made this decision, and if that had an effect on the material heard on ”Planetary”?

Duncan: The decision was made some time ago, but we agreed that I would finish the album off. To be fair, I always knew I’d be moving on and thats why I didn’t have anything to do with the artwork or tracklisting. I just got to the point in life where I had to move on. I wasn’t comfortable with where I was in terms of the scene, and wasn’t comfortable with what I was getting back from all the effort that I have put in. My new project ’Íon’ is a much more positive venture. Hopefully the energy I get back from that will help towards improving life.

As I’ve understood it, the album was made in two separate sessions. I think I’ve read somewhere that this is not a new approach to an Antimatter album. So, please tell me some of the reasons that lie behind this unusual working method of basically making two EPs and then fusing them together.

Mick: This was the only time we ever worked like this, as in being in seperate studios. In the past we have worked in the same studio, albeit with no collaboration in the writing or arranging of the tracks. The idea for this album was to keep things simple and smooth, so our own tracks were recorded in our own time with no pressure on the other one to be there. Besides, we live in seperate countries now, so whats the point in all that travelling when it wasn’t necesarry?
Duncan: I agreed to do one more album, so we did it this way.

I don’t know how I get this feeling off the new album, but it feels to me that on ”Planetary” you guys have found the sound and balance you were still looking for on the two previous albums. Did a more stripped-down type of music correspond to your feelings when recording the album or did you just decide out of your own free will to move on to this kind of pastures?

Duncan: I think Lights Out is by far our best, and most balanced achievement. Its a crying shame it was mostly put out to the wrong scene.

The method is rather unique nevertheless, and actually that’s just one thing that makes Antimatter even more interesting as a band / unit. With ”Planetary” you’ve come to the end of the road as a collective, however. What will be the strongest (and dearest?) memory of this time for you two?

Mick: The night we played K13 was great, our American tour, the nights in Istanbul and Greece, meeting new people overseas, our gig in Paris, meeting Virgin Black, I’ve a lot of fond memories, at the time I began with Antimatter I was in a serious bad way, and it helped me out of a rut, gave me a purpose, and most importantly got me out of Liverpool.
Duncan: Lights Out

Antimatter will, of course, pass on as Mick’s own project, and the news is that Danny from Anathema will join him on the next Antimatter album. When did Mick get the idea of asking Danny to join him with Antimatter, and will Mick nevertheless be writing the majority (if not the whole) of the next album?

Mick: I’ve got the album pretty much written already. At this point, it might be necessary to clarify Danny’s involvement for this next release - he’s guesting as guitarist for one album, he wont be taking Duncans place as a writer or live performer. I’ve wanted to work with Danny since 2001, when we first played together on the ’Saviour’ bonus acoustic tracks. We’ve got a strong mutual respect for each others work and it’s been like that since day one. Danny likes my voice and my songs, and I like Dannys guitar playing and songs, so it was just a matter of time before we hooked up. It’s been a bit awkward in the past, especially with the fact that any collaboration would’ve resulted in the album being likened to some kind of Anathema re-union by half-arsed journalists, but obviously that wont be the scenario this time around.
Duncan: I dont know. I had no idea that Danny would be replacing me in Antimatter, I like the irony of things like that though. But I have no problem with them using the name, even though I thought it up and got us all the record deals. It was me who chose to move on, so good luck to them.

What things will you (Mick) do differently with the next Antimatter release, as it is probable you have to change your perspective with the band if/since you’ll be writing the lion’s share of the next album?

Mick: My session for ’Planetary ..’ went very smoothly, so it’s just a matter of getting in that position again where all the music is written and arranged and everybody knows what the’re playing and where, except this time to come out with twice as many tracks. I shouldn’t have to change my perspective that much when recording. As for playing live, I’m taking a long break from that and I’ll see what happens in the future.

Has Mick actually written some new Antimatter stuff already? If so, could you please tell me what direction will you be taking with Antimatter’s 4th album? I really hope you’ll continue singing on the next release as well, because I love the tone of your voice and the way you pronounce…

Mick: Thanks, I’ll be singing all of the album, Danny will possibly harmonise where necessary. The album as a whole isn’t any specific direction/style, as there’s different things going off within each track. I have acoustic-based songs with violin (a la ’Planetary Confinement’), atmospheric segments and also the more rockier elements found on tracks like ’In Stone’ and ’The Last Laugh’. It will definitely come across as ballsier than ’Planetary ..’, but then again that’s not hard because ’Planetray ..’ was such a fragile, sombre album.

Danny being featured on the next Antimatter album is, of course, one of many things that link you guys with Anathema. I reckon all that ”Antimatter is a continuance for Alternative 4 era Anathema” stuff has gotten under your skin sometimes? Or are you just so used to it that the comparisons between the bands don’t irritate you that much after all?

Mick: In the past, I think it’s been easier for the press to write about our Anathema connections rather than have to come up with something original. That aspect has got under my skin, yeah. Antimatter was a continuation of Alternative 4 as far as Duncans material went, but not mine. I’m doing my own thing and I have my own influences, and I think my material has been sold short in the past simply because some lazy journalist has no idea what to say and therefore goes down the ’Anathema’ route once more. That all seems to be changing lately, and I had gotten used to it anyway. The one thing that pissed me off was the Russian release of Live@K13, - they slapped the Anathema logo on the front and printed Duncan and Dannys name on the cover!? Obviously this helps sell cd’s, but I’ve never been that fucking desperate to clock up cd sales! I managed to see the funny side of this anyway. It’s not that I have an ego problem, what pisses me off is that the work I’ve done has been consistently mis-represented in some quarters of the media. I don’t want Anathema fans looking to Antimatter as some kind of psuedo-Anathema, as thats an immediately restricting scenario which can only lead to disappointment.

On the new album there’s a song ”A Portrait of the Young Man as an Artist”. I just finished reading James Joyce’s ”A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” a couple of months ago, but the lyrics for the song not being available I couldn’t figure out the connection between the two literary works. Could you please give some information about the song?

Mick: It’s connected with Joyce in the title only. It’s a play on words, aimed at people who try so desperately to be seen as something that they’re obviously not.

Another song that caught my attention right away was the Trouble cover Mr White. Why did you choose to record such a cover song? And what Trouble means to you in general?

Duncan: I like that song, and wanted to record a version of it. It means a lot to me and I saw it as maybe my last chance to record it.

So, what’s next? In particular, I’d be interested to know something about Duncan’s music-related prospects… For instance, will there be any releases from Strangelight Records during 2005?

Duncan: Next up is the Breaklose album. That release had to be postponed due to the mess with the Nick Drake tribute. After that I have the Leafblade album, but I honestly don’t know when that will be completed. I will look upon that with caution though.

An interview with Mick Moss of Antimatter.
Originally published in Imperiumi.net, June 2007.
When I last interviewed you when Planetary Confinement was released, you pretty much seemed to have Leaving Eden mapped out for the most part already, or at least your words could’ve been understood that way. Nevertheless, in the end the release of Leaving Eden was postponed at least once, and sometime late last year I heard that you’d also had some kind of problems with the label, Prophecy. Would you care to tell something about this, shoot the rumours down, or anything?

- There were setbacks, yeah, as the album was ready to go a long time ago. Eden could have been released in late 2006, but in the end that delay turned out to be a blessing, otherwise it would have been released at the same time as Duncan’s Ion project. Yeah, I had the album in my head pretty much since the release of the last album. It was all there in various stages of completion, some fragments of songs, some demos, some complete tracks, some songs just needing arranging. So, like I said, it could have been released earlier, but with Duncan not there anymore there were complications with the existing contracts which had to be ironed out, hence the delays.

Also in our previous interview especially Duncan didn’t seem to think too highly of Planetary Confinement (at least in comparison to Lights Out), and from your comments on that album I somehow sensed that you didn’t consider it your masterpiece either. What do you think about the album now, and what do you think made you feel slightly reserved about the album back then?

- Planetary Confinement was what it was. I didn’t and don’t have any problems with it then or now. I had no idea until lately that Duncan was vocal about his misgivings with that release, but if anything I think that represents more his discomfort with the project at the time - I really can’t see how he is unhappy with it musically, as an album. Personally, I worked my arse off for that release, and I’m very proud of it, as I am with all the Antimatter albums.

On the retail version of the Planetary Confinement album there was a sticker which stated ‘the saddest album of the year’ (I remember it was quoted from a review). Does that sound flattering? In general, what do you think about the label using your emotions as a marketing strategy?

- That’s fine, its fair to say that it probably was the saddest album of the year. The label weren’t using my emotions as a marketing strategy; they were quoting a review. Besides, I have no reservations about putting my own emotions down in print and then having them released worldwide, so I can hardly complain about a sticker on the front of the case.

And to continue with the same theme: do you feel comfortable with the fact that such personal music as Antimatter’s is sold, bought, distributed, listened, analysed and consumed all around the world? I mean, composing and even recording music is one thing, but releasing music is another thing. How meaningful is the releasing part to you personally?

- Yeah, I’m comfortable with people digesting what I’ve written; I suppose that’s part and parcel of it all. Again, if I felt uneasy about it I would just write differently, or not put certain songs on albums. That has happened in the past, I’ve written a song and then decided not to have it released. In the end I’m in charge of what gets heard and what doesn’t.

Making (melancholic, sad) music is probably a cathartic experience to you. But what do get out of listening to sad music yourself? Is it like projecting your own (sad) feelings to the music, is it perhaps an energizing experience, does it represent a chance to be with your own thoughts or is it indeed saddening? Would you please enlighten your answer by, say, naming one or two bands that are maybe categorised as ‘sad’ music, and tell us the feeling you get out of their music.

- You know, I don’t actually listen to any overtly sad music in my own time. I don’t write self-loathing lyrics because that’s the type of music I listen to and I want to be like my favourite artists, I write like that because they’re the lyrics that need to come out when I put pen to paper. There are artists that move me, but I wouldn’t really class them as depressive. Melanie Safka has a really fragile voice, and that makes me feel kind of sad when I listen to her sing, but she was from the Woodstock generation, and I don’t think it was exactly her ‘gameplan’ to come across like that. Then there’s Richie Havens and Van Morrison, two more singer-songwriters who can really touch me, again more with the fragility of their vocal performances than their lyrical content. Morrisons 70s work was outstanding. Come to think of it, I can’t think of anyone in my playlist who is as lyrically depressing as myself, haha.

From the interview with the Finnish Inferno magazine I got the idea that some of the songs on Leaving Eden have actually been around (in one form or another) for some time already, i.e. initially composed for the earlier albums, but then dropped out due to excess of material, the songs not being in line with the album concept or something. Did you feel comfortable working with some older ideas?

- Yeah, in fact I was ecstatic to be working with older ideas, pieces of music that I did not want to see go unrecorded. Writers always have a cache of material, and if a writer has an artistic burst one year and writes the basis of three or four albums, then that’s gonna take some time before all of those pieces are recorded, it’s just the way it goes. It would be naïve to assume that every band checks into a studio and records an album that they have only just conceived. In fact, I think a lot of the good material is that which has stayed within the writer’s consciousness for a long time and developed naturally and fully. Most of the ‘old’ material that I have used would have been recorded in an underdeveloped state had it been recorded around the time of its conception.

The method used to compose Antimatter albums (at least Planetary Confinement, a bit like composing two separate mini-albums) was, from an outsider’s perspective, a pretty interesting one. However, Leaving Eden isn’t that different from the previous Antimatter albums, so one could assume that you’ve had to broaden your own perspective to cover the areas Duncan more or less took care of on previous albums. For example, many people I’ve talked with about Antimatter would probably say that Duncan was more keen to the tad more electric, if not electronic, atmospheres, whereas you prefer a more acoustic, singer/songwriter-like approach. So the question is, did you feel restricted or limited with your own material on the previous Antimatter albums compared to the new one?

- I was restricted in terms of how much space I actually had to fill. Half an album isn’t much room to spread your wings in, so I was usually just happy to choose the pieces that were most complete, or most suited to what I wanted to work on at that point in time, rather than having a broad canvass to fuck around with. This time I had more space so I was more inclined to take risks.

I think there’s a nice continuation or contrast, perhaps even a paradox in the album titles of Planetary Confinement and Leaving Eden. It’s like one first feels he’s bound to (or literally confined in) a place he doesn’t feel entirely comfortable in, but when he’s made to leave the place, it’s like leaving eden behind. Was this contrast in the album titles a conscious thing? How much of a new start Leaving Eden is for you and Antimatter?

- It’s strange; it’s both a brand new start and also kind of closure at the same time. There’s a duality about the album in more ways than one. Like the fact that it’s the first Antimatter album to be a complete solo work, yet it’s the first Antimatter album to be a complete band recording.

Leaving Eden has a certain flow, it’s consistent but doesn’t go round the bend and become boring at any point. How difficult was it to come up with the right tracklist, for example?

- For Eden I had to choose from maybe 15 pieces of music, and the tracklisting did seem to change from day to day. In the end I just chose the strongest tracks rather than choosing the most musically identical ones. I could easily have fell into the trap of thinking ‘This is a rock album now, so there’s no room for acoustic songs,’ or something like that, but I had to choose upon the strength of the piece and not how many power-chords it had in it.

Are there perhaps particular songs on the album that mean the most to you personally? Would you please give us an example?

- They’re all deeply personal, I don’t think there’s any lyrics that are more personal or less personal than the others. I just laid my heart out in the words and in the process it helped me define myself, helped me realise what position I held in the world at the time of writing. Some things have changed since then, others haven’t.

This is a question we should probably ask Duncan, but keeping in mind the fact that you more or less composed your songs separately and also that Antimatter is, at least in my opinion, not stylistically or conceptually bound to one certain type of expression, would it be too brave to assume that it was indeed the monicker ‘Antimatter’ Duncan wanted to get away from? Did you think about the possibility of starting afresh entirely under a different band name?

- I did, but I’m a pragmatist, really. My music is associated with the name ‘Antimatter,’ and having just turned 30 I did not have the energy to start a new project, especially when there was nothing wrong with the project I was involved in.

Danny has a pretty recognisable style of playing, so many people will probably screaming ‘Anathema’ in few places on Leaving Eden (say, at the end of ‘Another Face in a Window,’ for instance). Did you pay any attention to, or try to consciously avoid sounding too much like Anathema in the lead guitars?

- Nah, I wasn’t bothered really. I wrote that part for him at the end of ‘Another Face in a Window’ anyway, I knew it would sound good. All the Anathema comparisons are a part of life now, its inevitable; the two projects are joined by history and personnel. People are going to compare the two because of that association and find what they want to find. That riff at the end of ‘Another Face...’ could have been on any other album and no-one would have even thought to compare it to Anathema.

My band Subaudition warmed up for Danny on three of his Finnish solo tour dates last year, and got to watch closely the way Danny handles his guitar – and how seriously and personally he takes his music. I mean, he seems to be a very passionate, though perhaps not a very rudimentary musician and guitarist. Is this exactly what you wanted him to bring to Leaving Eden as well, passion and melodic eruptions, so to speak?

- Yeah, of course, Danny is by far the most emotional and accomplished lead guitarist I know, and was therefore the only choice for the album.

The guitar solo/lead on Ghosts sounds like you played or at least wrote yourself? I get a very strong Pink Floyd (Animals album sort of) vibe from that... Was it a conscious little tribute to the Floyd?

- Not really, no, I don’t think I had Floyd in mind while I was writing that guitar lead. It was Danny that played it. I knew I wanted slide guitar, so Danny threw down my melody and then played another complimentary one behind it, like George Harrison. That’s what we had in mind in the studio, George Harrison.

To go back to your feelings about Antimatter and to our previous conversation a couple of years back, you stated then that when you started doing Antimatter you were in a somewhat bad shape in your personal life, but the band gave you strength to carry on. Now, one stressful album process more behind you, have there been times when you’ve felt that the energy you’ve poured into Antimatter hasn’t recouped in one form or another? If not, when/if such times would come, do you think it would be the end of Antimatter?

- The energy I’ve poured into Antimatter has recouped with every single album release. My ‘payment’ has been in the form of completing work that is really personal to me. In answer to your question, I think it would be all over when I have no music left to record. Money, popularity, or any other ego-based factors do not come into it.

On a brighter note, have you already begun with new Antimatter material? Is there a certain direction you’d like to go with Antimatter now, or just let the songs lead the way?

- It’s probably a question of both letting the songs lead the way, and also fulfilling your own personal needs musically. I do have two songs, both of which have been with me for many years, and I just haven’t got around to recording them. I also have fragments of songs here and there, and also other fully developed tracks from recent years, so yeah, there is material there. If and when I get the energy, enthusiasm, and (most of all) need to go back to writing, I will surely lay the foundations of what will become another album. If that blossoms into a full albums worth of material that I feel is good enough to commit to, I will surely see what options are available to me in terms of getting it recorded. That, though, is in the future. At the moment I have gotten ‘Leaving Eden’ out of my system , and I don’t want to even think about the prospect of doing another album for a while.

Any chance you’d be touring in Finland in the near future? Also, any message you want to send to your Finnish fans, feel free to shout it out here.

- Yeah, thank you for your time and support, and I hope to come to Finland soon for a few dates.

And so they did. Thanks for the memories guys and gals!

sunnuntai 27. marraskuuta 2011

Paradigms Recordings – A Puzzle Unravelling

An interesting label from the beginning, the London-based Paradigms Recordings set out to do something different. In fact, the label practically seemed to be destined to be a cult-label, as their limited releases were uniquely printed and packed and their musical perspective far and wide. While some Paradigms releases in the past six years have been bordering on pretentious and artsy-fartsy, there's definitely been a couple of true gems among them. One of them is naturally
Heaven Is All by my good friends Blueprint Human Being who were actually the ones that introduced me to Paradigms. Other great releases include Coma Waering by the unfortunately succumbed The Angelic Process, the eponymous Murmuüre album and the recent Kinit Her cassette.

The label has probably had its share of difficult times, but having unleashed more than 50 releases in the past six years, they're still going strong against all odds. They're also having a massive sale until December 3rd, so this is a good time to broaden your musical horizon: Paradigms store. The interview below from 2007 was done with label boss Duncan Dinsdale, plus members of early Paradigms artists such as Amber Asylum, Throne of Katarsis, Titan, Woburn House and Blueprint Human Being.

"A Puzzle Unravelling"
An article on the
UK-based Paradigms Recordings label.
Originally published in The Serpent Bearer I, March 2008.

The Golden Age of record labels is long past. The whole concept of a label has gone through a massive devaluation, a depression, if you will. Some people long for the earlier days of labels like Noise, Peaceville, Roadrunner or Candlelight. In the beginning of the new millenium the logo of Prophecy Productions in the album sleeve was many times enough for me to have faith in the quality of the release. Indeed, more often than not, it did pay off. How long has it been since you last bought an album based on the label it was released by?

These days the compound noun record label tends to have rather negative connotations, and most of the labels certainly have had it coming. Of course there are still label bosses around that have their own artistic vision – and the means to concretize that vision. Undoubtedly, some of the most fanatically idealistic labels have gone bankrupt after a handful of releases, whereas the rest have to work extremely hard to make ends meet. Since the early years of the new millenium I, for one, have grown more and more suspicious of record labels in general, yet there are still some labels that I tip my hat to unconditionally.

In early 2006 I was introduced to an up-and-coming British label Paradigms Recordings who seemed in every way determined to live up to their name. Once again the word record label could be used to denote something almost mystical. It seems to be the basic imperative of Paradigms Recordings to deliver us music that would’ve otherwise escaped our ears. With releases ranging from psychedelic acid-rock to grim black metal, and from funereal drone to eerie neo-classical music, Paradigms isn’t just a curiosity from the margins of the music industry. Indeed it is working its way in from the periphery, ceaseslessly garnering more and more attention among music fans regardless of their normal genre orientation. Perhaps not all Paradigms releases epitomise the absolute top-quality in their respective genre, but I daresay even that is beside the point here. Instead, it is already an achievement of sort that each and every one of their releases would seem to have a distinct purpose, more or less. Duncan Dinsdale, our label boss of the day, agrees that looking at the releases is, in a way, like looking into a kaleidoscope.

– Yes, I like the kaleidoscope idea, that makes sense to me. I guess with each release people will understand a little more about the ideas and visions behind what we’re doing. There is no end goal or solution, so each turn of the kaleidoscope will make the whole label look and feel a little different. And that’s just the way I want it to be.

Indeed, Paradigms is like an ever-expanding puzzle, a kaleidoscope made flesh, whose every move should be observed with extreme care. That being said, it has proved an impossible task to predict which direction the label was going to take next. Rather, several times during its first two years of existence it hasn’t so much moved to a specific direction as it has teleported itself from one place to another.

It might be stating the obvious but even in all its absoluteness, the label ideology of Paradigms appears to be rather broad-minded, though far from being all-embracing. With the exception of the label uniform, the imprinted brownish envelope that has covered many of the releases so far, the lifespan of Paradigms has been somewhat fragmented, something very difficult to formulate ‘the big picture’ of. In fact, to be totally honest, at first the releases didn’t seem to take Paradigms anywhere. Bereft of the ideas of continuity and progression – ideas normally attached to a record label – the releases, too, were like a bunch of snap shots, one-off things, that didn’t really seem to come together on any apparent level.

– Paradigms is not particularly about developing bands or the label, it’s all about capturing specific moments of magic and wonder. To document those feelings that music can give you that makes life exciting and worthwhile. So I guess Paradigms is more like a dream diary than a conventional record label, Duncan readily admits.
– The great thing about music – especially more underground, esoteric and experimental music is that because it is exactly that, you never know what you will discover next. For example, this week I discovered the first two albums that were released on 4AD Records by Xmal Deutschland. Both albums are about 25 years old, I had never taken the time to investigate the band before and now, 25 years later, they are making a huge impact on my life, rejoices Duncan before elaborating on the Paradigms ideology.
– Paradigms is our own personal way of exploring new, challenging music without real boundaries. The most important aspects of any Paradigms release are atmosphere and visual aesthetic – to create a rather introspective soundtrack and vision to transcend everyday life. There is no fixed ideology or code to the Paradigms concept – but all the bands and releases hold a small part of the puzzle that we are unravelling. It all makes complete sense to us, at least...

For some reason my discussion with Duncan seemed to touch upon the concepts of aesthetics and ideology even more often than I had intended it to. Perhaps that’s what one should expect from a person who obviously considers music an ideology in itself. Although Duncan says personal ideologies of the artists Paradigms works with are never a consideration for him, it is only natural that the ideological differences behind the Paradigms artists aren’t as prevalent as their musical differences. After all, one’s personal ideology is seldom as accomodating as his taste in music. Anyway, I’ll let Duncan do the talking.
– I think what comes first is atmosphere and aesthetic. I have my own personal ideologies and beliefs but these do not become part of Paradigms – I think the power and depth of the music become central to what we want to convey, not an ideological message. When I say ideological, I am meaning more traditional social or political ideologies. We will let the art be our message. So maybe that is in fact the label ideology… As I said, Paradigms is very aesthetic-based, we tend to let the art convey the messages and expressions rather than action or words.

Duncan goes on to saying that if there was something he felt uncomfortable with that an artist was saying or doing, then it wouldn’t be right for him to work with that artist in the first place. To be honest, I don’t know what peculiar current of naïvety got into me as I, pretty much inadvertently, asked the Paradigms artists whether they would feel awkward being on the label if the other bands’ ideologies were completely different from theirs. What’s naïve about that is that, were every band in the world to take a close look at their labelmates’ ideological background, few bands would ever end up on any label. Some of the Paradigms artists found a way of agreeing with me, nevertheless.

– My opinion is that there should be a connection in both the music style and the ideology, and blasphemous black metal is not for everyone, states Grimnisse of Throne of Katarsis who was in for a small surprise about the Paradigms label policy.

– We had no idea what kind of label Paradigms was when we signed there for this release. I guess we assumed it was a black metal label, but we didn’t give it much thought really. I have to admit that we weren’t too enthusiastic when we heard the other bands, or projects, nor when we saw the ad in Terrorizer Magazine. Not quite our style to be honest, but at the same time we didn’t really care.

Being now signed to Candlelight Records and a March 2007 album release behind them, Throne of Katarsis have probably seen their albums advertised in Terrorizer again. On the presumable collisions between their and other artists’ ideologies Grimnisse declares that they don’t truly care about what the other bands might think of them, even if the other bands would fight against Throne of Katarsis, because “that would be a fight they could not win,” slabs Grimnisse.

Other Paradigms artists are more in the lines of Sebastien Martel of Utlagr who believes the other bands on Paradigms are really aware of the label policy, so there’s no reasons for them to stand against each other. Sebastien then goes on to explain how it’s important for Utlagr to avoid any kinds of political issues, while Fabian from Woburn House exclaims they want to have nothing to with “any fascist/racist/sexist-pricks.” These days it’s more than predictable to hear something like that from a German, and I’ll give him that, even though stating that “it is about music, not politics, ideologies or anything else that draws any more borders between people” might be misinterpreting the meaning I intended the word ideology to convey.

When asked the same question as the artists above, Kris Force from Amber Asylum, too, is somewhat careful in her choice of words.

– Although I would not adopt the aesthetic values of Throne of Katarsis for my own project, I have no problem sharing audience with them. I have no issues with Jesus or the Antichrist for that matter, so in this respect I cannot relate. Living in California I haven’t been overshadowed or force-fed by centuries of Christian icons and archetypes.

I must confess that I was a little disappointed when I realised I couldn’t really juxtapose any of the Paradigms artists. I mean, what happened to ‘extreme music for extreme people’ – a slogan most often applicable to underground genres in general, and not just metal? Even Utlagr, who solemnly avow themselves as black metal want to dissociate from the majority of the black metal scene, because they are not satanic, but more like anti-monotheistic.


Before I got introduced to Paradigms it had been a while since I had really bought much else than metal records. While many of the most enjoyable Paradigms releases are at least tangentially metal, the rest also have a fair amount of good things to offer. Of course there are releases that are less mouthwatering, like Norway’s Hjarnidaudi whose metallic drone-ambient doesn’t even distantly reverberate into my brain. Many of the earlier Paradigms releases were actually reissued versions of self-financed demos, like in the case of Blueprint Human Being and Throne of Katarsis, or other recordings that were getting increasingly difficult to find, such as The Angelic Process’ brilliant Coma Waering or Amber Asylum’s 10” EP. In fact, The Angelic Process and Blueprint Human Being releases originally date as far back as 2003. The first contacts between Duncan and the bands that later would release stuff via Paradigms date even further back in time. Erno from Blueprint Human Being sheds some light on the first encountering with Duncan.

– Actually we came in contact with Duncan around 2002 when he was running the label Rage of Achilles. There was some discussion about future collaborations but nothing happened, and then Rage of Achilles went down in 2004. In 2005 Duncan contacted us again as he was launching Paradigms. At that time we didn’t have anything new to offer since we hadn’t rehearsed for about two years, as the members of the band were spread across Europe doing whatever studies. So eventually Paradigms ended up re-releasing Heaven Is All.

Kris Force from San Francisco’s Amber Asylum relates that she, too, has followed Duncan’s work since the days of Rage of Achilles, although Amber Asylum didn’t come in contact with him before the release of Garden Of Love was scheduled for early 2006. Initially the plan was to release the EP through Codebreaker Records, but that plan fell through.

– I’m not sure exactly what happened. It was all a go and then suddenly it wasn’t, but shortly after that Codebreaker vanished and Paradigms became in existence and then the plan was executed, although slightly modified to include Paradigms image policies.

Duncan himself doesn’t feel too comfortable discussing his past deeds in the music business. Admittedly, the man has had his share of calamities, but examined from a purely musical perspective I think it’s fair to say his undertakings were laudable already back then in 2001 when he was putting out albums like the self-titled debut effort of Cult of Luna and so on. Although the scope of Rage of Achilles releases was to expand substantially, perhaps even uncontrollably, it might be said that with the 2004/2005 Codebreaker Records releases – from stateside drone-doomsters Hyatari and Deadbird – Duncan eventually found to where he had started from with Cult of Luna. However, with Paradigms Duncan undoubtedly started afresh, this time from a slightly more modest launching pad, perhaps. Therefore it’s not surprising that the bands are fairly unanimous in their good opinion about Duncan and the effort he’s put into the label and the releases.

– The great thing about Paradigms is the freedom that Duncan offers. We were basically given complete control over our recording and were able to do whatever we wanted, musically, which is a really inspiring place to be. We took a bunch of drugs, locked ourselves in a friend’s basement and pressed record, commences Kris D’Agostino from New York’s hypno-prog phenomenon Titan.

– In many ways, Paradigms has a finger on the pulse to current needs of the audience and is satisfying increasingly diverse listening tastes. Neurot Recordings attempts this but with less risk taking. Duncan has exquisite and discriminating taste in all genres that he represents, praises Kris from Amber Asylum even though she did have her initial doubts about a certain aspect of Paradigms.

– I’ve got to admit I had trepidation in surrendering Amber Asylum’s graphic image to Paradigms since we also have a specific brand identity, but Duncan seemed more than willing to combine the themes with respect to each. I thought they were very compatible. I quite like the actual digi envelope and the printing quality of the Paradigms concept, concludes Kris.

One of the most striking features of Paradigms releases is indeed the packaging. In addition to the more common items, digipaks and DVD-cased CD’s, Paradigms put out the first seven of their releases in beautiful hand-stamped presentation envelopes. Might not be the most practical object I’ve held in my hands, but damn it looks good. The Paradigms artists are also more than happy with the outlook of their releases. Fabian from Woburn House compresses their opinion to one word, “mouthwatering” – and his fellow artists happily agree.

All in all, it would seem Duncan has put in too much of his time and heart-blood to make a dear hobby into a miserable business this time. That, in turn, entails the absoluteness about certain aspects of music, the least of which is not purity.

– I guess that one thing which I need to feel with all the music on Paradigms is a kind of purity in the music – something that shines out to me and has an effect on me personally. I find this purity in a lot of bands that pioneer new sounds and new ways of making music, but also with bands such as Throne of Katarsis, for example. Black metal, when it is done properly and sincerely, has an overpowering purity and power which still exists after so many years. And I think it is this that still keeps me passionate and excited about discovering new black metal alongside all the new and experimental music that I am listening to, explains Duncan.

To a certain extent at least, the bands are in for a same kind of ride. I think Grimnisse from Throne of Katarsis puts the right words into use on this one.

– Our prophecy was and still is to craft purified and atmospheric occult black metal in the true vein of the early 90s Norwegian black metal, and to be focused on spreading the unholy message through our blasphemous lyrics. We do not think about what others might think of our music, nor how the audience will react to our songs being played live. This is a total ego trip.

– I feel it is more inspiring and motivating trying to find your own way of doing things than just recycling old things unimaginatively. Of course the influences are always there, but I see them – or this present world of experiences – more as a kind of starting point for the search of new possibilities, heading for the unknown, utters Erno from Bluepring Human Being, pretty much in the same lines with Grimnisse. Kris from Titan relates yet another aspect to the discussion on the origins of music.

– I think the most important thing is knowing where the music you’re making is coming from, what inspired it and how you can take those ideas, that have already been done, and make them new again, and different. We actually borrow a lot of our sound from a myriad of bands that we love. All of us are big 70s prog-rock and electronic music fans so we look to bands from that era for inspiration.

The above description of Titan’s influences would, in some respect, suit the whole Paradigms imprint. Duncan obviously knows where music is coming from, and how he can take that idea and make it into something new. His own influences for Paradigms, though, come from a slightly surprising source: the early 80’s catalogue of 4AD Records, the UK-based indie label that has released some true indie/shoegaze gems, Dead Can Dance and Red House Painters being perhaps their best-known artists. Admittedly, Paradigms, like 4AD, is far from being a metal label. Duncan goes on to explain that Paradigms was created with a serious discipline in mind from the start. This discipline, in turn, can be traced back to his love of many esoteric and eclectic recording artists from Ulver, Dead Can Dance, Mazzy Star, Cocteau Twins and Amon Duul to Emperor or My Dying Bride. In more ways than one it is easy to see Paradigms as a sort of escape for Duncan. But what is it that he wants to get away from?

– I think because we live in a consumer world, where music is so readily available and disposable and where imagery is constantly flashed at us every minute of the day, Paradigms was my personal way to take a step back from that. To release music that demands care and attention, to design and present our music in more interesting ways and to distribute the editions in a more direct manner so that we can interact more with the people who discover our work. That does mean that because we are not mass marketed and mass distributed, people have to find us themselves and invest time and interest into what we do – and that is the most precious element of Paradigms for us, elaborates Duncan.

After the initial idea of selling the Paradigms releases exclusively from their own website, Duncan has handpicked a selection of trustworthy distributors from across the world. It would feel like stating the obvious to say I share Duncan’s view of today’s music world, and I’m sure that in time Paradigms will find initiated listeners. In today’s music world where there’s a well-paid but a less dedicated promoter lurking around each corner, it won’t be an easy task, though. Of course I have to admit that there are days when I feel I no longer have any reason to believe in those naïve phrases about people recognising and being able to respect music that comes straight from the heart. I dare to say that while labels showing unfaltering dedication to music are few, Paradigms would definitely count among them.


While some Paradigms bands had already won some renown with their earlier releases, Jarboe and Amber Asylum unquestionably being the most acclaimed ones, for the rest of the bands Paradigms offered a convenient springboard out from the deepest pits of the underground. With the unfortunate exception of Blueprint Human Being and The Angelic Process, the bands that have so far added a Paradigms release to their resumes are still active as ever. Blueprint Human Being have been on a break of undetermined length since the late 2003 release of the Heaven Is All demo, and in October 2007 The Angelic Process was put on hold indefinitely, due to drummer-guitarist K. Angylus’ serious hand injury. Utlagr have welcomed back into their ranks the guitarist Jacques Villiard who was going through an intensive cancer treatment. The band has also finished the recordings for their debut album entitled 1066 - Blood And Iron in Hastings to be released via Canada’s Sepulchral Production in December 2007. Furthermore, Titan have their new full-length A Raining Sun of Light and Love, for You and You and You… out on TeePee Records, and the more organic, less kraut-esque approach they’ve taken promises good things from the new material. Amber Asylum and Woburn House are busy playing live in their natives, USA and Germany respectively. Amber Asylum have their new album Still Point out on Profound Lore Records, and the same label is also responsible for the release of the recent The Angelic Process album Weighing Souls With Sand.

One thing I didn’t see coming was Throne of Katarsis being signed to Candlelight Records. Although a quick look at the current Candlelight roster tells us that two of their most prominent artists – Kaamos and Emperor, that is – are either dead or, well, undead I guess is what you’d call Emperor these days, Throne of Katarsis could’ve shopped a deal from a label far worse than Candlelight. The aptly titled debut full-length An Eternal Dark Horizon hit the stores in March 2007.

January 2008 will mark Paradigms’ second anniversary, and from what I came to understand when the label surfaced, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if their first anniversary had already marked their death. The fact that Ducan rather took to calling Paradigms ‘an imprint’ or ‘a recordings series,’ apparently in an attempt of dissociating himself from all the ‘labels’ out there, implied that the lifespan of Paradigms would have been predetermined. They would issue a handful of quality releases in limited editions, and vanish into the thin air before anyone really had detected them in the first place. Duncan himself doesn’t admit this, however. Instead he states that the only predetermined idea was to further a strong aesthetic for his grand vision, one day, one release at a time.

Appears to me, he found a little cozy corner for himself, and is in no rush of going anywhere. In fact, as I said earlier, at some point down the road, that was what I thought he was doing – going nowhere. Re-releasing a rather incoherent bunch of recordings, albeit some very good ones, seemed a tad too indeterminate and unfocused an approach to be very succesful in the long run. According to Duncan, the foreseeable future will see – and has already seen – Paradigms concentrating on new and exclusive material. The way I see it, that will bring Paradigms to the first full circle, and will hopefully bring about further years full of meaningful and interesting music. In conclusion I try to pry into the deeper motivations behind the whole Paradigms excursion. Duncan calmly ponders on the notion of ‘selfish motives’ that I deliberately blurt out.

– I think my selfish motive behind Paradigms is to create a musical interpretation of the way I would like to live in the world, if that makes any sense. Paradigms is all about going back to what got me excited about music in the first place – not the money, the big sales, the marketing and promotion. To me Paradigms is here to create a little bit of magic for a small amount of people. To create a pure, decadent, rich artistic expression with unique and esoteric music. That’s what I would call success.

Now, we might have to return the ‘dead cult label’ trophy with Duncan’s name already engraved on it, but that, I guess, is a price we should be willing to pay for some more insightful Paradigms releases.

maanantai 21. marraskuuta 2011

The Devil's Blood - Paradox Forevermore

The Devil's Blood is hardly a band enslaved in time. Neither is this interview which was done with mainman
Selim Lemouchi in September 2009. What helps is that we didn't spend too much time discussing the band's then-current album The Time Of No Time Evermore per se. In the wake of the Devil's troops' second album The Thousandfold Epicentre, there are already many voices calling out, chanting the band's glory, but The Thousandfold Epicentre being the masterpiece it is, I can't help but join the choir.

"Paradox Forevermore"
An interview with
Selim Lemouchi of The Devil's Blood.
Originally published in Imperiumi.net, September 2009.

I know you get this a lot these days, but I think congratulations are in order for an outstanding debut full-length! What were your expectations for public response once you'd finished working on The Time Of No Time Evermore?

- To be perfectly honest my expectations were always very low, the main reason for this is the fact that I myself have enough trust in my music to know that just finishing the album and everything surrounding that is enough to be totally proud on it. Apart from that it is good to see that so many people are excited and feel there is something of value to found inside but this does not change the way we go about making music or performing live in any way.

This might sound paradoxical, because I'm conducting an interview here myself, but I've always wondered what kind of an experience interviews are for a band like The Devil's Blood. I mean, when it's obvious than the band stands for a lot more than the usual rock n' roll mechanics, do you ever feel uncomfortable sharing your ideas about your chosen spiritual path and so on?

- A mixed experience, I have to say the general level of the interviewers is dreadfully low. This really annoys me from time to time having to answer the totally inane and childish questions over and over again. But also it can be a very rewarding process if the interviewer has done his homework and has come up with the right question to really allow us to say something worth reading.

This might be a brave assumption, but the way I understand, you don't want The Devil's Blood's job to be explaining their work to their listeners, let alone converting the listeners to similar beliefs. So what function do interviews serve for you personally and The Devil's Blood collective? Are you at peace with the fact that there's quite a bit of this sort of "mundane" stuff to be considered when the band reaches a certain level of renown?

- Yes, I am. And although I do not see myself as a "evangelist" I do see the possibility of opening people to our message and attuning them more and more to the Sinister energies we try to invoke. In this capacity interviews can become the instigating factor for a wide scope of realization processes in the mind of the reader.

It would seem that The Time Of No Time Evermore will take The Devil's Blood's popularity to new heights, although it's still probably farfetched that with the no-compromise attitude the music would bring the food on your table... If it one day would, though, would that change anything with how you feel and see The Devil's Blood?

- I'm not sure, making money was never the goal of course and I see no real changes in that any time soon. If we could however make decent living out of it I see no reason to not do that. It would allow us to dedicate even more of our time and energy into The Devil's Blood and that would be good thing doubtlessly.

One thing that might also prevent The Devil's Blood to rise to world-fame is the very contradictive nature of the band. Like you said it yourself in an interview with Lords of Metal, some of your non-musical inspirations to write music include: "Sex, Death, Excess, Art, Drugs and Alcohol, Magick, Satan, God, Love, Hate, Contradiction, Hypocrisy..." Bearing this in mind, it's obvious that not all of your listeners can (or even want to) touch but the mere surface of your being. So, what do these listeners - and your "fans" in general - mean to the band?

- Contradiction and Paradox are the main inspirations behind The Devil's Blood as they are primary heralds of Chaos in the minds of men. As these contradicting images flow from our music and from our words so may the people start to see the beautiful horror that is at its heart. What these people, our "fans", mean to us is a chance to do what we want to do. We'd like them to open their mind to the spiritual but if for some reason they are unable to and make due with just the rock n roll aspect of the band that is fine too.

Continuing with the thread of contradiction and extremity, how difficult is it for you to keep the band together and not let it slip to a total unbalance? How important is tension for the success of the band? On the other hand, is balance in any way or sense of the word something you strive for with The Devil's Blood?

- It is hard, but as we are serious people that know where we are and what we want we usually get past our internal "strifes" in a professional way. Our dynamic allows to work very professional up to certain point and after that loose ourselves in chaos and disorder. There is a sort of balance there which we try to push as far as it will go. Sometimes however these scales slide and strange things happen usually when these mindsets are combined with copious alcohol usage. Here's another paradox; in order to instigate chaos in the minds of the listener/watcher/seeker you must apply a modicum of order to bring across these images in a comprehensive way. Organisation is in this case Chaos born.

Actually, how do you define success in The Devil's Blood's context?

- To be able to do what it is we do the way we want, when we want, how we want. To instigate extremism in the listener both internally and externally. To make Art that sings of Glory that is coming.

You've been very open in interviews, and in many of them you've talked about your drug use. How big of a learning experience was that time for you personally, or was it indeed just something that was hindering you, in other words, did the learning only come after you'd gone through rehab?

- 50/50 I guess, it took some time for to learn that I was not someone who could use drugs as a "recreational" thing but that the bondage of addiction was too close for me. I kicked that habit as best I could and I feel glad I did.

“We are not heavy metal, we are what becomes heavy metal.“ That's again another quote from an earlier interview. I have to say I like the way that statement sounds, but it still begs a further question: What has originally set you on this trail of creating music? Do you think "divine providence" has had anything to do with that?

- Maybe not Divine in the common explanation of that term but, yes. I believe I opened myself to influences that pushed through me their source of inspiration and this, flowing through the landscapes of my personality became the music and words of The Devil's Blood. As to that quote; it was more a reaction to people misguidedly cornering us as a heavy metal band, which we are not.

The recent decade has seen a resurgence of sort in occult metal/rock, at least when it comes to the themes and imagery many of the bands nowadays use. Do you see The Devil's Blood as part of any kind of scene or movement, (and did any contemporary artists play a part in your spiritual awakening)? Or would you rather see The Devil's Blood considered as an entity unto itself?

- The bands and artists that have opened me to this have been discussed many times before and that is a matter of public record. I do not see The Devil's Blood as a part of any scene whatsoever. I think we are an independent entity who can stand proudly on its own. That is not to say we do not respect or admire many of these artists and bands. We simply feel no need for this kind "organised" thinking as this will doubtlessly lead to dogma.

I know that it's not your policy to comment extensively on any interpretations on the lyrics, but I just have to ask the following question. I'll Be Your Ghost feels and reads very much like a love song to me. However, there's also a strong sense of (Faustian) submission/surrendering to a greater force in the song. So, how close are love and submission in your books?

- They are certainly very closely connected. And in this song I did voice both in equal measure.

In an interview for the Austrian Stormbringer, you say that hedonism plays "a very important role indeed" in The Devil’s Blood: "Excess, debauchery and transgression of every kind would be a very important piece of the puzzle. We call on our audience to provide us with their energy and to let their souls sink deeper into the darkness and chaos that lies waiting. So, violence, sex, drugs, alcohol... all these things are or could be a part of our ritual in order to achieve our goals?" But does asceticism have a place in your personal way/view of life?

- Yes. Growth through self-denial and self-affirmation equally. Another fine paradox.

In a recent interview with the Finnish Inferno you stated that with The Time Of No Time Evermore you've come to the end of the first full circle. How do you expect the second circle to unfold, then? Do you already consider The Time Of No Time Evermore a thing of the past and look forward to starting anew?
- In a way it is just that, a thing of the past. And perhaps through the live presentation it will grow even further and reach new heights creatively. On the other hand I am a restless person and I would enjoy writing at this moment very much. Alas, I am but a little vessel on a vast ocean of creative force and I will have to wait for the winds to blow again and then perhaps I can get a glimpse on the new shores it will bring me to.
A very good, recent mini-documentary on Selim's views on life, death and inspiration (by the Dutch FaceCulture).

lauantai 19. marraskuuta 2011

What's gone, what's to come

Starting today, I'll be publishing the interviews from the first issue of The Serpent Bearer, originally published in early 2008. I want to acknowledge the Hellbound Qvadrivivm zine from whom I basically nicked this whole idea.

My intention is to publish a new/old interview every now and then, and maybe also give you interviews that I've done for other media than The Serpent Bearer. I'll also top off each interview with a comment on the bands' recent tidings, just to make it a little more interesting for both myself and the reader.

While we're waiting The Serpent Bearer II to materialise, I hope you enjoy these slightly old but - for the most part - still topical interviews.

Hammers of Misfortune - War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning

In October, Hammers of Misfortune, the US ambassadors of unique metal - a less-than-innovative label Shadow Kingdom Records threw at my good friends Garden of Worm - released their fifth album. In fact, 17th Street would be the band's sixth record if you count the somewhat disappointing Fields / Church of Broken Glass double-thingy as two separate albums. In this interview from 2007, John Cobbett stated the band were "officially unsigned and rather proud of it," but three years later the band were proud to sign with metal heavyweight Metal Blade Records.

Our discussion back in 2007 focused on the band's third album, The Locust Years, as well as the then-current political situation of the US of A. While the president's no longer a guy named Bush, fundamentally the Western world is still trapped in the glossary of war. In Angela Merkel's words: This is, huh, war (featured on the anticipated album "Europe's toughest hour since World War II").

So, to celebrate one of this year's best metal albums, 17th Street, let's listen to the modern-day Brian May from San Fran.

"War is a Force t
hat Gives Us Meaning"
An interview with John C
obbett of Hammers Of Misfortune.
Originally published in The Serpent Bearer I, March 2008.

In the course of conducting intervi
ews for this zine, I’ve seen some bands get on their hind legs upon introducing the word and concept “ideology.” Often it’s used as an umbrella term for discussing a variety of topics related to religion, politics and beliefs in general. To think discussing spiritual beliefs makes you an incurable religionist, or expressing prejudices against any group of people labels you as a racist, is plain stupid. I even had one artist stating that, to begin with, lyrics aren’t meant to be about expressing your personal beliefs. What they are about, I never got around to ask.

“The fifth trumpet announces the coming of locusts that will torment men with a sting like a scorpion’s.” (Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose)

Luckily I also found people like John Cobbett of Hammers Of Misfortune who are prone to further discuss the topics introduced in their lyrics. At the time of the interview the band was, according to Cobbett, “officially unsigned and rather proud of it.” In January 2008, however, Canada’s Profound Lore Records announced that they’ll be releasing a new double album from Hammers of Misfortune, hopefully in autumn later this year. Hammers’ latest album from 2006, The Locust Years, has been out well over a year now, but the band’s interesting take on contemporary US politics, and yet more interesting music, well deserve the attention the band is given herein. The Locust Years isn’t only about war and politics, though. In Cobbett’s own words it’s more about the effect war has on culture and language. It’s about the mythology of lies, the hand-carved truth handed out to people to make sense of the world around them.

– The situation is infuriating, but so far no-one’s broken down my front door and hauled me off to a political prison. After reading enough history and war correspondence I’ve come to realize that I’m extremely lucky in this regard. There are many in history and alive right now who aren’t so lucky. They would be – and are – tortured, jailed, starved and murdered for doing what we take for granted.

All Cobbett’s trying to do is open people’s eyes to a truer truth. So John, when you read newspapers and follow the media, do you feel saddened or infuriated? What about your initial reactions to 9/11 – was it patriotic rage towards the terrorists or more like directing your anger towards your own government, like, “what did we do to deserve this”?
– As I said above, I feel lucky. I live in a safe place with enough food to eat so I can laugh at the world, think and write about it. My initial reaction to 9/11 was utter shock. We’ve had many generations of peace on American soil, so it was pretty crazy to be attacked. I also thought “what took so long?” as I’d been expecting a disaster of this magnitude since I was 14 years old: you can’t have a history like ours and not get fucked with eventually, he reflects.
– Of course violence is nothing new in America, but this was different from the usual mass murder, gang violence or domestic terrorism. I wasn’t angry with my own government until they started lying about it to advance their own unrelated agenda.

Cobbett relates that he, as well as many of his friends, grew up with the hardcore punk scene of the west coast. Interestingly, the west coast scene has produced an almost unstoppable cavalcade of interesting metal bands in the recent years, Slough Feg, Asunder, Wolves in the Throne Room and Weakling among them. Although not an element in their music, the attitude of punk is one of the things that drives Hammers: think for yourself, make your own rules, question authority... By the time he was nine years old John had been kicked out of Sunday School for arguing with the teacher about evolution.

It’s fairly easy to read the lyrics of The Locust Years politically, and as drawing allegories with war. It’s also too easy to dismiss political subject matter in music as irrelevant, misplaced or downright boring, because any band nowadays can ride on the wave of the pseudo-in-your-face ‘hang Bush’ blabber and say they’re politically conscious.

– I agree. Politics is usually really annoying in music. I felt strongly enough to do it, but it had to be done in a certain way, not didactic or literal. There is room for interpretation in all the songs. Mainly the goal is to evoke an idea, not nail it on the head. I’m not interested in converting anyone to a political point of view. I’m interested in stealing “reality” – whatever twisted view of reality you are being threatened with at the moment – breaking it and twisting it into music, which is its own reality.
– Keep in mind that all the lyrics can be taken as insights into normal everyday life as well. This is an important point because all politics and war are a bigger reflection of the petty disputes and intrigues of mundane, everyday life. Hopefully our lyrics are malleable enough to be broken and twisted by the listener into whatever meaning works for them.

As said, war is an important concept on The Locust Years. But what is Cobbett’s personal relationship with war – is he pacifist, antiwar, realist or something else? What about his opinion of the USA intervening in most politically or financially meaningful military conflicts, playing the part of the global police?

– I’m not a pacifist. I think that you’d sooner stop people from picking their noses than stopping war. It’s just something that people do, as natural as taking a shit, Cobbett compresses before opting for a more elaborate approach.
– As for the US and its self-appointed status as “globocop,” that’s a much more complicated issue. First of all, the US doesn’t get involved in every military conflict going on. All the genocide that’s been happening in Africa, the US won’t touch that – even though the human cost is staggering beyond belief. No nation acts militarily out of the goodness of its heart. Even when the Clinton Administration got involved in The Bosnian War you could call it self-interest because the crisis had gotten so much attention that to ignore it would be considered reprehensible. This isn’t to say that our part in that war was bad – far from it. The point is that governments always act in their own perceived self-interest.
– Prior to both world wars, the US had a strong isolationist stance, and has in fact been criticised for not getting involved soon enough. At the end of World War II, however, two new military superpowers had been created, the US and the USSR. Now the “military industrial complex” (MIC) is firmly in control of US policy. It’s run from a different perception of national self-interest than most citizens would hold. Many would argue that poverty, education and healthcare are our primary national interests. The MIC has different priorities and couldn’t care less about domestic issues and the welfare of the public. It plays politics, manipulates the media and influences elections as much as it has to and then goes on its merry way. For these reasons the US won’t be able to go back to its isolationist ways anytime soon, especially now that we have opened the Pandora’s box of long-term military involvement in the Middle East.

As said, it has become fashionable to criticise the Bush Administration, but what some people don’t see is that there is more than meets the eye, quite literally, going on in the cabinets; more than one dazed puppet of a President calling all the shots. In all likelihood, therefore, the USA would’ve landed pretty much in the same position in the hands of, say, Al Gore or John Kerry.

– I have to disagree with you. Of course George W. Bush is just a figurehead. His administration, the real “men behind the throne” are the same guys that ran Nixon and Reagan’s cabinets during the cold war, Vietnam etc. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and those guys are real hardcore MIC types, corrupt to the core. Kerry or Gore wouldn’t have been saintly by any means, but at least we wouldn’t have these old chicken-hawks from the Vietnam era running everything, counters Cobbett.
– You must realize that these guys had an agenda of advancing American hegemony through unilateral military power since the 90s (look up the PNAC – Project for a New American Century – they made their intent very clear in ’97, starting with Iraq, and their membership reads like a who’s who of the Bush Administration). 9/11 was their big ticket.
– The days following 9/11 are key. What they did was immediately try and associate the attacks with Saddam Hussein and use fear tactics to bully the media and the public into compliance. They used 9/11 as an excuse to pursue an unrelated war with an old enemy of the Bush family, predicated on utterly false claims. The Bush’s close ties with Saudi Arabia and the Bin Laden family can’t be ignored either – you might have noticed that Saddam has been hanged and Bin Laden is still at large. If there had been a different president, I hope that we would have gone after the real culprits and not gotten needlessly diverted into an unrelated disaster like Iraq. Maybe then we would have Bin Laden in custody. I’m certainly not the only American that finds it outrageous that we went after Iraq instead of the guys who actually attacked New York. It’s a disgrace. The Bush Administration will go down in history as the worst in American history, unless their ideological descendants rewrite it, concludes Cobbett in a near-Michael Moorean fashion.

Like most Americans, Cobbett didn’t vote for anybody, he voted against Bush.


On the first two albums especially, Hammers Of Misfortune came across as a rather concept-driven band. Of course Cobbett himself would state that Hammers are both song-oriented and concept-driven. On The Locust Years the band edges nearer to the more typical song-oriented structure and approach, as there is no linear storyline this time around.

– The first album, The Bastard, was all about the story. I have to say that it’s liberating never have to do a story-driven album again. I much prefer concentrating on songs. There’s still a basic thesis, or a set of ideas explored on our records, but each song should stand on it’s own. My goal is to make a great album, write great songs and have a lot of really cool music on a record. If the songs are good by themselves it’s not too hard to make a good album, but it helps to have the main idea in the back of your mind when working on a song so everything works together in context.

In a way the lyrics still are a backbone against which the song structured. According to Cobbett himself, if he ever finds himself at an impasse in the arranging of a song, the first question asked is “what’s going on in the lyrics during this part, what’s the song about?” This immediately brings to mind the song Famine’s Lamp from the band’s latest album. The lyrics are rather apocalyptic and musically the song is like a lullaby for the dying world. The melody, on the other hand, is pretty much in the nursery rhyme vein, which makes the whole song, in all its simplicity, a very enchanting and charming one.

– That song is a combination of hymn, nursery rhyme and funeral march. The melody is deliberately very simple and “monolithic,” as I like to say – in other words, it’s catchy. Being catchy, or charming as you put it, is important. A good song should get stuck in your head. Once you have the listener’s attention, you can get your point across with the lyrics. That song is mostly quiet and acoustic, which makes it much more menacing in my opinion, Cobbett readily enlightens.

For such place references as “above the holy land,” “upon the promised land,” “within the temple walls” and “in the highest tower,” the most readily available readings are USA and Israel. As expected, Cobbett neither concurs nor contradicts my reading of Famine’s Lamp.

– It can refer to any time in history and any place considered holy. Of course in our times it’s going to call to mind certain places. The location of “The Holy Land” depends on which religious lunatic you’re talking to. If you listen to assholes that call themselves clerics, religious leaders and evangelicals they use this kind of language all the time. The text just sounds religious. Part of the idea was to parody religious dogma and at the same time deliver a scary prophesy in its own language.

If anything, Famine’s Lamp goes to show how easy it actually is to play with the religious jargon and be convincing in what you say. Any person careful enough in one’s choice of words can make people see things from his perspective. As explained by Cobbett earlier, by creating an aura of fear, US politicians have convinced the majority of people to think the wars they fight on the other side of this planet help the US to preserve their way of life. Or serve a pre-emptive purpose. Or whatever they choose to call it that day. Why not just call the phenomenon by its real name, by the title of the Chris Hedges book that Cobbett cites, conceptually, as one of the most influential books in regard to The Locust Years: War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. The book is roughly about the corruption of values, about creating a mythic narrative around war and about how, while not the underlying cause of the war, there’s an appeal to religious fundamentalism in times of war. “Sway through the air on strings straight from heaven,” as the Hammers song Chastity Rides has it.

– Fundamentalists are very scary people. As a rational person I can say that a fundamentalist has a right to his beliefs just as I have a right to mine. The fundamentalist isn’t fettered by rationality. In his view I’m a dead man walking, so killing me would just be making a long story short.
– Fundamentalism represents all that is worst about human nature. The arrogant, murderous, hateful impulses wrapped in self-righteousness and phoney goodwill. I know that fundamentalists do a lot of charitable work, but at the end of every breadline and toy drive there is a stern message: convert or perish.

The Bastard, the Hammers’ debut album, may have been propelled by a mythical story line including dragons, tyrant kings and the like, but the story also readily offers a rather simple environmentalist reading, not entirely dissimilar with that of the Isengard invasion by Ents in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Then there’s The Locust Years, which keeps coming back to its main thesis of a falsely justified war on terrorism and the effects this has, via media, on the way people think about war in general.

For a metal musician, Cobbett seems uncommonly touched by humanitarian issues or, shall we say, uncommonly inclined to talk about this kind of ideas and feelings. In an interview with San Francisco Bay Guardian, Cobbett expressed his interest in writing about Hurricane Katrina – the perfect storm that wiped out half of New Orleans in just a few days. Cobbett now says that while very interesting, Hurricane Katrina is hardly subject matter for a concept album. His humanist inclinations he accounts for in the following terms.

– The fact is that you and I are humans, like it or not. This is what we have to deal with. The human condition is all we know and the filter through which we strain all perception of the world. It’s not a matter of faith; it’s a matter of fact. I’m not a huge fan of humanity; as the most virulently self-aware species that we know of, man is a rather disgusting creature. Anyway, we’ll be gone someday. There’s nothing we can, or should, do to change that. I just figure it’s pointless to deny that you’re a part of it. You eat, you breathe, you talk, you have friends and family, sorry, you’re a part of it. From there you can try to figure out how you feel about that, how to survive, whatever. I think that it’s around this point that the whole idea of “art” begins.

perjantai 11. marraskuuta 2011

Eleven to kill the Ten

Everyone knows what date it is today. And for The Serpent Bearer it's not just any date or number. Rather, it's the number the second issue was originally intended to build upon. At some point 11 interviews turned into two times 11, then three times 11. It was supposed to be published on 11/11/11. Let's pretend the release was postponed because Black Sabbath barged in and cried "reunion", so The Serpent Bearer wouldn't have made frontpage in metal news today. So you'll just have to wait for a little longer.

Today, at the eleventh hour, I sent out my 33rd interview for The Serpent Bearer #2. The first one was sent about two years ago, and while all the interviews were mutually agreed on before sending the questions, it'd seem that I will never see answers to a handful of them. Without spending too much time whining about it, I think it's a fuckin' shame.

So the work doesn't end here. I will not rest until the II have become I. And I just managed to reference both Dissection and Spice Girls in one single blog entry.

tiistai 1. marraskuuta 2011

The Second Coming.

Born in 2007, The Serpent Bearer is a fiercely independent zine focusing on dark esoteric music. The first issue, published in early '08, was the first humble step into the dark with bands like Ignivomous, Jumalhämärä, Thy Serpent, Reverorum ib Malacht, Hammers of Misfortune, Caïna, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Pimentola as my guides.

The past four years have been full of false starts - and bands! - something that I couldn't have imagined in 2007 preparing the maiden issue of TSB. 2009 saw the release of Serpentscope, a collaboration zine by A. Klemi of Kaleidoscope and yours truly.
Autopsy, Cauldron Black Ram, Daniel Ekeroth, Diocletian, Embrace of Thorns, Grave Miasma, Hooded Menace, Invidious, Portal, Rippikoulu, Sepulchral Aura, Teitanblood, and I think you got the point.

Work for the second issue of The Serpent Bearer is but halfway done, but the tunnel at the end of the light is finally starting to take shape. Meet you on the other side!