I first experienced H.R. Giger’s work when my mother allowed to me watch Alien as a child. Needless to say, the titular creature was one of the most delightfully terrifying things I’ve ever seen, a biomechanical nightmare brought to life. When I got a little older, I watched a documentary about the film and discovered the man behind the deadly Xenomorph, sparking a lifelong fascination with his work; the mix of heavy machinery, eroticism and horror was right up my alley, given my love of comics, science fiction and monster movies, as well as a budding interest in the opposite sex. I would of course encounter his work yet again as I began to get into heavy metal; his art graces the covers of genre touchstones such as Carcass’ Heartwork, Celtic Frost’s To Mega Therion and Danzig’s How the Gods Kill.
Inflicting wound upon wound on the bloated, festering corpse of print.
BACKLIT / 2
Now available at backlitzine.com
Cover Art by Brian Smith
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Raping Angels in America #3 / Joshua Haun
Fear and Loathing…In Hollywood / Dave Schalek
That’s When I Became A Metalhead – Gene Hoglan / Kyle Harcott
The Rise and Call of the Mastodon / Dean Brown
The Rains of Resurrection / Ian Chainey
Live (Before) Death / Craig Hayes
Red, The Bleeding. The Blood Streams…Von / Dave Schalek
(R)aging Gracefully: Sunbathing in Filth / Jordan Campbell
Doomsday Device #3 / Joshua Haun
Directeur / D. Harlan Wilson
Unearthed: A Conversation With Brian Smith / Brandon Duncan
Roughly 5 months ago, Brandon Duncan (whom you may know from The Sequence of Prime) contacted me with an idea; let’s start a new online metal zine. Typically I prefer to work alone, but Brandon’s enthusiasm is contagious and I’m proud to call him my friend, so there was absolutely no way I could refuse. Brandon gathered an ace design team while I hand-picked some of my favorite writers from internet metal land with the express purpose of creating something new and unique, to drag the old school metal zine into the future, come Hell or high water with an emphasis on good old-fashioned writing and design.
After 5 months of hard work, I’m proud to present to all of you the fruits of our labors in the form of Backlit #0; fifteen pages of mind-melting music, art and literature.
Backlit / 0
Now available at backlitzine.com
Cover Art by Dan Harding
Raping Angels in America #1 / Joshua Haun
Angry Old Men / Jordan Campbell
Helpless Child / Dan Obstkrieg
Fucking The Future / Joshua Haun
Libations in the Labyrinth Vol. 1 / Dan Obstkrieg
Words That Wound / Dan Obstkrieg
Doomsday Device / Joshua Haun
Interview With Jester King Brewery / The Dragon of M87
Interview With Ashencult / Jordan Campbell
Art & Fiction:
Succubus in the Attic / Nikki Guerlain
Dan Harding: The Fine Art of Horror / Brandon Duncan
The Dragon of M87
I hope that you will all enjoy reading the first issue of Backlit as much as we enjoyed crafting it. This is only the beginning!
The Sequence of Prime’s Brandon Duncan isn’t just a musician and artist I admire. He’s someone that I’m happy and proud to call my comrade; sometimes our conversations lead me to suspect he really is my brother from another mother. His music is a whirlwind of grinding, mechanized thrash, while his art is equal parts cosmic, apocalyptic and futuristic. In honor of the release of Inter-, his latest collection of face-rippers under The Sequence of Prime moniker, we chatted over a series of e-mails about everything from the new album, to HP Lovercraft, to the multiverse. Read on for one hell of a verbal ride…
When I was in college, it seemed like I had all the time in the world to just sit and listen to music. I would lay on the futon in my microscopic dorm room, blaring a wide array of metal, rock, hip hop, punk and classic country for seemingly hours on end. Sure, I was going to classes and working multiple jobs, but there was always at least a day or two where I could stay up until the wee hours listening, or find a long break between classes to relax with an album or two. I’d stare at the artwork, read the lyrics, the liner notes and sometimes even the thank yous while the music washed over me out of big-ass speakers, or pumped directly into my ears via headphones (until I accidentally crushed them in a drunken incident that needn’t be recounted here). I could lose myself totally in the worlds my favorite artists created, whether it was the mean streets and dope beats of Ice Cube’s The Predator or the reverbed-to-Hell midnight treble-scapes of Darkthrone’s Under a Funeral Moon.
Utterly embarrassed as I am to admit it, I’m no stranger to bouts of misogyny. Prior to meeting my phenomenal wife, my romantic dealings with the opposite sex were, to put it mildly, less than stellar (I’m sure this surprises no one). From my first “real” girlfriend breaking my heart over a decade ago, to the woman I let repeatedly grind my soul to dust my senior year of college, to countless instances of rejection and other assorted shittiness that would take ages to properly recount, I had been left with a bad taste in my mouth and a fuckload of bitterness before a raven-haired goddess rescued me from the rut I was in. As a result, I treated the few women that dared to try to get close to me like complete shit (this was totally undeserved and my petty way of getting back at the fairer sex as a whole, I reckon) and was generally distrustful and disrespectful towards any woman who wasn’t a blood relative or counted among my inner circle.
Before Satyricon was playing at fashion shows and striving to create the perfect arena rock album for androids, main man Satyr Wongraven ran a label called Moonfog Productions. Between 1999 and 2001, this label unleashed three black metal albums that did a great deal towards paving the road for the trajectory of the genre over the course of the next ten years (and beyond). I refer to these albums as “The Moonfog Trilogy”. For those unfamiliar, these three albums are:
Satyricon – Rebel Extravaganza (1999)
Dodheimsgard – 666 International (1999)
Thorns – Thorns (2001)
I’m not sure if it was by coincidence or by design that Moonfog featured the trifecta of Norway’s (then)cutting-edge black metal bands. Satyricon being on the label was obviously a given, but the fact that Satyr wisely aligned his own project with Thorns and Dodheimsgard (DHG) made the label appear as a united front of sleek, futuristic black metal bands. Of course, we mustn’t forget that Darkthrone was also on Moonfog at the time, sticking out like a sore thumb. I’ve always theorized that the inexplicably panned Plaguewielder was Darkthrone’s twisted attempt at the “Moonfog sound”, but that’s a whole other post unto itself.
Back on topic. United under the banner of Moonfog, these three albums shared a sonic and visual aesthetic that completely fucked up and in some aspects outright rejected the established tenets of black metal as it was known at the time. There were no crude black and white corpsepaint-in-the-forest photos or Old English fonts to be found on these releases. The artwork was colorful, modern and clearly crafted by someone who knew a thing or two about graphic design. Black metal’s pagan terrorism tactics were eschewed by Moonfog in favor of visuals that evoked urban blight and the grim underbelly of our not-too-distant future. Satyr and Frost’s makeup on the cover of Rebel Extravaganza makes them look less like grave-robbing ghouls and more like some sort of STD-infested heroin-zombies lurking in the darkest gutters of major urban centers. 666 International‘s cover appears to be the aftermath of an attack by the aforementioned heroin-zombies, with its shadows and stainless steel and what appears to be a whole lot of blood being washed down the drain. To this day, I’m still not sure what exactly is going on with Thorns‘ album cover. To me it alternately looks like a giant alien entity raping the sun and an insect giving birth.
Thorns, 666 International and Rebel Extravaganza were just as forward-thinking musically as they were visually. Each album is unique, but they also share certain sonic characteristics. The production schemes are cold and clinical. The guitars are all treble, cutting through the mixes like surgical saws. On the surface, they’re nearly devoid of anything resembling emotion, but as the listener peels away the layers cyber-grime, the humanity trapped within begins to reveal itself, screaming to be freed from the twisted mass of mechanized torture.
666 International was the first of the three albums to be released (June 11th, 1999 according to Metal Archives) and marked a major stylistic shift for DHG. The traditional black metal of previous albums such as Monumental Possession completely disappeared in favor of a heavily industrialized take on the genre that hasn’t been equalled before or since. I often claim to not be a fan of industrial/black metal hybrids, and that is because 99.9% of the bands that have attempted to cross-pollinate the two styles have failed miserably. DHG on the other hand, mastered industrial black metal the first time out. 666 International is cold and mechanical yet grimy and frightening at the same time. The guitars are white noise and static, harnessed into form by bloody mechanical hands. Programmed-sounding beats dominate the musical landscape, sickeningly precise and repetitive. It is the soundtrack to mankind being rounded up and enslaved by an army of rogue machines. And yet there are distinctly human elements clawing their way up from the depths of the stainless steel sonic hell the album creates. Aldrahn’s extremely versatile vocals, and the occasional piano melodies that creep up remind you that 666 International is the work of people and not replicants. This is the sound of black metal’s willful primitivism being engulfed and subjugated by the technological age.
Satyricon’s Rebel Extravaganza might be an even more terrifying listen. In some spots the album is unbelievably caustic, in others it almost fully embraces the conventions of rock ‘n’ roll at its most pure. Amidst the the filth-grinding yet sterile atmosphere, the band trots out riffs and grooves that are unmistakably headbang-able, but they are surrounded on all sides by hard angles and cold, unforgiving atmospheres. This album is probably the most traditionally black metal-sounding of the three, but this is BM at it’s most gritty, urban and ultramodern, like if Satyr and Frost had scored the soundtrack to Blade Runner instead of Vangelis.
Rebel Extravaganza is also the most emotional of the three albums, but the only emotions on display are anger and hatred. This is an album forged of pure nihilism, of taking pleasure in the loss of humanity and giving oneself over to the technological/urban nightmare foretold by 666 International.
“This would be the way of the misanthrope
in order to create you must destroy
We would greet the nuclear morning mist
We would smile at all life dying”
-from “Prime Evil Renaissance”
The end of the world will not be some hellfire ‘n’ brimstone biblical apocalypse, it will be collapsing skyscrapers wrapped in a tangle of wires and circuitry, humanity choked by a cloud of radioactive vapor, our bodies converted into fossil fuels. Rebel Extravaganza is a celebration of that moment.
If Rebel Extravaganza and 666 International represent black metal’s (and by extension humanity’s) struggle against the onset of technology and urban sprawl, then Thorns represents the machine army’s victory march over the charred, broken bones of the human resistance as black smoke pours out giant factories, blotting out the sun for all eternity. This is an album of precision and discipline, as engineered by Thorns mastermind Snorre Ruch, who himself might be a visitor from the horrific future, so advanced and bizarre is his approach to guitar playing and composition. Although I’m not aware of any interviews that focus extensively on his six-string technique, I’d imagine it would be a fascinating interrogation. His use of dissonance and choice of notes that fit together in a manner that can best be described as uncomfortable, or maybe unsettling, has never been fully replicated, at least not to these ears. Even the most traditional of metallic moments sound utterly extraterrestrial in Ruch’s hands.
Thorns is Thorns the band’s first and so far only album. Ruch released several highly influential demos in the early ’90s before being sentenced to 8 years in prison as an accomplice to Varg Vikernes in the murder of Oystein Aarseth, but nothing (not even the Thorns vs Emperor split) could have prepared the scene for the highly advanced take on black metal that is Thorns. The recording delivered (and still does deliver) on everything Satyricon, DHG and ultimately black metal as a genre had promised up to that point (albeit via very non-traditional means), total inhumanity, total domination, total damnation, total death. The sound is so unnatural/synthetic/alien that it’s hard to fathom any flesh and blood whatsoever being involved in its creation.
Amidst Thorns‘ mechanized onslaught there is a peculiar eeriness to the proceedings, due in large part to the dark electronic influences that inform portions of the recording. There is something undeniably unnerving about the clanking industrial noises of “Shifting Channels”, the squealing synths that bubble under the surface of “Existence” and the moments of pitch black ambience that continually creep up. By adding these elements into the mix, Thorns amplifies and transforms black metal’s reliance on conjuring an atmosphere of sickening malevolence.
The most telling evidence that Thorns is indeed the culmination of this trio of Moonfog releases is the presence of both DHG’s Aldrahn and Satyricon’s Satyr Wongraven handling the vocals. As the narrators of the first two chapters, it is only fitting that they be present for the climax, and Thorns finds both men’s voices positively dripping with acidic venom. Their contributions give the three albums another level of continuity, creating a sinister narrative that spans across them. It is the most immediately recognizable tie that binds them all together.
Thorns, Satyricon and DHG weren’t the only Norwegian black metal bands experimenting with electronic/industrial atmospheres or trying to push the genre forward (see also: Mayhem’s largely misunderstood Grand Declaration of War), but these three albums are inextricably linked on so many levels that it is hard to ignore their collective impact. For me personally, listening to Thorns and Rebel Extravaganza (I didn’t discover DHG until much later) made me realize that black metal didn’t have to be recorded in the middle of the forest on a malfunctioning 4-track machine. These albums threw the true kvlt rulebook out the fucking window and then shot it to pieces with an AK-47 and lit the remains on fire. Although Thorns would fall off the radar and both Satyricon and DHG would never again reach the levels of sheer brilliance they’d attained, all three bands can rest assured that their place amongst the pantheon of black metal’s greatest innovators will forever remain secure thanks to these albums.
Don’t bother going to the Moonfog records website, as it hasn’t been updated since May of 2007. However, if you do venture over there, you can see pictures of a sold out Thorns t-shirt that I would kill for under the mailorder section.
Last I heard, Snorre Ruch was creating ambient soundscapes for art installations as Thorns LTD. However, the band’s page on Shirts & Destroy claims that he is working on a new Thorns album w/ a re-tooled lineup. Here’s to hoping.
I’ve made much ado lately about what is and isn’t black metal. Going back and listening to Thorns, Rebel Extravaganza and 666 International in nearly constant rotation has reminded me of what black metal is really all about. Black metal is ultimately all about freedom. The only rule is that there are no rules.
And yes, I still think Liturgy sucks.