If you like black metal chances are you have heard of the fantastic new Feral House published book ‘Black Metal Evolution Of The Cult.’ In fact you have probably bought it like I did at the first available opportunity and been devouring it page by page. If not you should rectify that as soon as possible. Just after it had thunked through the letterbox causing a small crater with the stench of sulphur rising from it I threw some questions towards author Dayal Patterson who was more than happy to have the tables turned on him and be interviewed himself.
Firstly what was it that drew you to music journalism, when did you start out and how easy did you find it getting an inroad to doing so?
It was pure accident to be honest – my background was in photography and I never had any ambitions to write, but I fell into it in 2004 because I decided to do a zine (called Crypt). It was largely for nostalgic reasons, because metal print-fanzines had become all but extinct due to the internet (in contrast to just half a decade before when there were maybe 5 or 10 at any one time in the UK alone). My original idea was to use a friend of mine’s unused archive of interviews, but actually in the end only a couple of these were really useable and so I decided to do some myself, my real motivation being that I could finally ask the questions I wanted to and satisfy my own personal curiosity (also my main motivation for writing this book). I put a lot of work into Crypt and the zine was well received, so much so that I was asked to write for Terrorizer (who I was occasionally taking pictures for already) and then Metal Hammer. And I have to emphasise that I wasn’t sending the zine along as a portfolio of work or whatever, I was just hoping for a review so I could shift a few more copies. So actually I found it very easy to become a music writer, ironically easier than becoming a music photographer, despite having a degree in photography.
You officially started with the idea of the book in 2009. In the early stages did you have an idea of just what an undertaking it would be and how did you go about the process of approaching publishers and getting the idea into action?
I knew it was going to be a big undertaking but no, I didn’t realise quite how much time (and therefore sometimes money) the whole thing would involve. As it happened, I didn’t approach any publishers until almost exactly two years of work had been put into the book – at that point it was about fifty percent complete (not including sourcing the images) and I decided that I should have confirmation that it would be released in some form (I did consider self-publishing) before I put any more time and energy into the whole thing. It was a very self-motivated project from start to finish, much like my aforementioned zine (although the book was obviously a much bigger challenge) and there was a certain amount of discipline needed because for the most part there were no formal deadlines. Any book is a big undertaking but interviewing about 100 people and covering 30 years, especially with people who are not very much in the public eye, well, it took some work.
Did you start off with a big list of bands who you really wanted to interview and did you find this list growing all the time? How did you decide on who exactly you were going to include?
Yes, it was more or less like that – I suppose the hard part was to decide who not to include in a way, because there are lots of great bands that didn’t necessarily do anything significantly new or different or weren’t notably influential on later bands and so on. I didn’t want the bands included to be arbitrary, and for that matter the book’s title is not arbitrary; this is a work looking at how black metal was formed and how it evolved into what we have today. So it’s about the people, the bands and the records that created archetypes for an entire genre I suppose. The bands that were chosen therefore are all there to illustrate certain facets or subgenres of black metal. But of course some people still ask me why some newish USBM band that they love aren’t given much mention…ye gods!
Naturally previous contact with bands and the people behind them must have helped, did you find that most were keen to help and be interviewed? Did most of them embrace the idea of what you were doing?
I was surprised how many bands did agree really, and it’s a good thing because I couldn’t have released a work like this at all if it omitted crucial figures within the movement (be it Cronos, the members of Mayhem, Tom Warrior, Darkthrone, Emperor, Rotting Christ/Necromantia, King Diamond, Blasphemy, Snorre Ruch of Thorns etc). I don’t know that they were all keen to be interviewed, but they at least agreed to it eventually haha – I think it helped that I spent a long time spelling out what this would be and what it would not be, and yes, it also helped that I knew some of the participants or had friends in common etc. But in a lot of cases, one band would contact another and put a good word in because their experience was positive. I think there was a lot of trust but also a sense of collaboration since I tried to involve bands from start to finish where possible.
With a few notable exceptions such as Lords Of Chaos via the same publisher a lot of books about black metal tackle the subject with little idea and at times even comprehension of the subject matter, just seizing upon the sensational aspects of things. Would you agree and did you have any problems with any prospective interviewees who were reluctant to get involved thinking that your book might be treading the same paths?
Yes definitely, people were hesitant in some cases because of past efforts. Again, it helped that I had something of a track record with Metal Hammer, Terrorizer, Record Collector and Crypt, etc – in some cases people had been interviewed by me going back to early 2000s, so I could show a long-running interest in the subject and explain my intentions. A lot of the participants did make clear that they didn’t want the book to be like some of the efforts of the past, but I’d sort of foreseen that and taken it into account when I first contacted them so we were on the same page.
To be honest, in my opinion it’s not always sensationalism that’s the problem, it’s more the lack of scope. Naturally most of these films, book, articles and such about black metal are created by journalists or film makers who are more or less outsiders to the scene, and are understandably fascinated by the glimpses they’ve seen and want to cover it themselves, but are unaware that they’re re-treading a lot of well-worn ground with very little insight to add. So what you tend to get is an extremely narrow glimpse into the genre as a whole, or even a narrow glimpse into the history of Norwegian black metal. I think black metal has a lot of meanings and it’s not an easy genre to decode. I’m about 20 years in and still making my mind up on certain things..
The book is a chronologically precise historical documentation of a very special and unlikely to be repeated chapter of musical history in my mind. Was this the way you intended to portray things originally and how difficult did you find getting every aspect of it into place in a way you were happy with.
Very difficult, yes. Before I started really writing this was the main question of course; how to structure the book. And in the end it had to be more or less chronological in order to accurately capture the development of the whole thing – the complicated part is that a lot is going on at once and you don’t want the reader to get lost, so the story is broken up into chapters, usually one band or subgenre per chapter. I think that gives it the best of both worlds really. You can then really dig into each band/subject without worrying about deviating from the timeline or confusing the reader.
Along with your own authoritative narrative I have found all the interviews insightful and illuminating. Did you tackle each and every one in a different fashion, the book certainly does not suggest anything in the way of a formulaic approach or standardising of things.
Thanks for the kind words! Well I hope there was nothing formulaic really, except I think the first question for each subject regarded how they got into music originally and how they got into black metal. I think that’s quite important, to see how people are drawn into the scene in the first place, to understand why a genre lives and grows, what its appeal is to people and so on. And in some cases the answers turn out to be quite strange, KISS trading cards and Robin Hood TV programmes being two examples that spring to mind. But yes, a lot of research was done prior to each interview as you suggest.
How did you undertake doing the individual interviews? You actually travelled and did some face to face I believe and guess you conducted some when the artists were touring the UK. Obviously you no doubt had to do some via the internet or phone I guess? How easily did everything fall into place in this respect or was it really difficult tying some of the bands down?
It was a nightmare. The mighty Mysticum, for example, I made contact with after no small amount of work (this was before they reformed remember and they were quite anti-talking about the band) and actually I was on pretty friendly terms with 2 of the 3 members, and was chatting to them informally, but still I couldn’t get them to actually get in a room and do a proper interview until about two years had passed. Rob from Graveland took about six months from agreeing to the interview to actually doing it, the list goes on. The interviews were done in all sorts of ways; for some I went to Norway to do interviews face-to-face, other times I was meeting bands (as you say) that were on tour over here, otherwise it was a case of calling bands on the phone, chatting by text on skype, exchanging emails…whatever it took!
As far as travelling to do face to face interviews were concerned what were the highlights and where did you actually find yourself going to? Did you end up doing anything out of the ordinary such as camping trips with Darkthrone or fishing with Enslaved?
When I think of where I’ve spent time with bands it tends to be bars. Not sure if that’s a reflection on me or the bands – probably both to be honest. So no camping trips – I went to a factory with Svartravn of Mysticum if that counts? And I played Pac-Man on the arcade with Apollyon. I’m struggling now, I should make something exciting up in case this question comes up again.
I was wondering if you got any sort of funding or advance to help pay for any trips by the publisher or any help at all embarking on this financially?
No this was self-funded – hopefully now (and assuming this book continues to be a success) I’ve proved myself to some extent and so could ask for a decent advance from a publisher for my next work. In this case I’d really done most of the leg-work before I even looked to a publisher, if you’re writing your first book your options are a bit more limited than if you’re an established author I think. To be honest the cost here wasn’t so much the trips (which I usually helped fund by doing mag interviews as well) but the reduced amount of freelance work that I could take on because I was having to spend time on the book. In that sense this was an expensive project, but then I had a great time and it’s what you might say a dream project, the sort of thing a lot of people put off until they’ve retired or their kids have grown up or something. And given our short times on this planet I say no time like the present!
Unfortunately some of the people involved are no longer with us, how did you find it getting friends and relatives to talk about them and were they easy to approach and willing to do so?
Well there wasn’t too much of that really, the main example would be Euronymous but I chose to use the words of his peers to paint the picture of him and they were all being interviewed about their own activities, the two often overlapping so it wasn’t such a big thing I suppose. B of Lifelover also passed during the making of the book but he had spoken quite extensively for the project and was very eloquent, so there was no need to ask anyone to speak for him so to speak.
I am sure there are going to be people who read the book and indignantly shout out ‘how could you not have included so and so.’ They would be hard pushed to do so but were any artists impossible to track down or simply unwilling to get involved?
Yeah of course there will always be a bit of that – people have to remember that the bands chosen are there to illustrate a certain direction the genre took, certain extremes of expression, or influences the direction the genre as a whole took. To answer your question though, it wasn’t as big a problem as I had imagined it would be – in some cases I was surprised at who said yes. But yes, there were a few people who politely declined such as Deathspell Omega, It of Abruptum, and also there were some who said yes, but never really got it together due to a lack of organisation. Maybe next time.
I bet you got told a fair few interesting anecdotes off the record that you must have been kicking yourself that you could not share in the book?
Yes, of course there were some stories that I couldn’t include for legal reasons or reasons of respect (drugs being the most obvious examples). Still, there’s more than enough intrigue in there as it stands without making a book that couldn’t be published.
One thing I have found interviewing people involved in the scene is that you can really forget any stage presence and antics. They are all genuine people with strong convictions about what they do and are on the whole incredibly sensible and humble about the part they have played in the grand scheme of things? Would you agree or did you find any stereotypes coming to life?
I don’t know that they’re all humble I have to say, black metal is as full of egos as all art tends to be. And I’m definitely not going to agree with the sensible part! For sure black metal is a genre inhabited by some real characters; eccentricity and individuality are key words, and there are very few in this book – if any – who aren’t included in that actually. That’s one of the reasons it is responsible for such strong artistic statements I think. For sure there is often a gap between the personalities of the people involved and their band personas, but still I think that compared to those in the death metal scene for example, black metal contains very few ‘normal citizens’, so to speak.
How did you go about tackling the contentious issue of NSBM. It would have been completely wrong not to represent it but I am sure you didn’t want to give anyone heavily involved in the scene a platform to spout their ideologies and offend people?
Of course this is the chapter that has been mentioned most often and the one that was the hardest to write, because what I wanted to achieve was an honest look at why black metal developed a political face in the first place. Others might find it more comfortable to ignore the facts, but it is not really possible to separate NSBM from black metal entirely because objectively-speaking there are obvious crossovers. At the same time at a certain point NSBM becomes its own subgenre/subculture, so you have to draw a line (much as when folk black metal simply becomes folk metal). And of course there are some contradictions in terms of values and so on.
As far as offending people, I wasn’t too worried about that, because this is a book that discusses church burning, murder, anti-Christianity and so on, and that would offend some people. But I wouldn’t want to suggest that those race-related views align with my own or anything, just as I don’t support grave desecration or whatever. I think anyone reading the chapter will see that it’s a pretty balanced account that explains the facts of how this scene came to be and its relation to the rest of the black metal movement.
Religion is another contentious subject. I always find it interesting to discover bands from places such as Iran and Saudi Arabia where they find it virtually forbidden to play and perform. Did you seek out anyone from such areas or was this something difficult to do or maybe irrelevant due to the fact that they really are too underground to have been featured?
Not so much that they would be too underground, but rather than there is no band from these territories that has yet had a big enough influence to inspire the direction of the genre as a whole. It could be that in ten years, a demo from Bahrain inspires a whole new face of black metal, just as obscure tapes by Thorns did in the early nineties. But this book is really looking at the progression of the music and culture from 1980 until 2014, and while there is a fantastic scene in places like South America and Asia, it’s not yet creating a new face for the genre I would say, even if the quality is very high.
I take it you completely ignored so called Christian black metal / white metal. Were you tempted to give any mention to the bands involved within that sub-genre?
No, again it would be a token gesture.
Do you consider this is a book with a definite ending, is it one that has gone as far as it can or do you consider that it is one that is to be continued at some point. Post black metal is becoming more and more prolific yet the orthodox ways continue to flourish, what could possibly come next?
I think it gives the timeline for the foreseeable future, but of course in ten years there will be more history to write about in the same way. I suspect black metal will continue to expand and mutate to be honest, and become even more diverse than it is now. But I also feel that the mix of experimentalism and conservatism will continue to define the genre, and I’m sure there will be people doing things the ‘old fashioned way’ for decades to come.
Final question I have to ask is what’s it like being on the other side of things and being the interviewee yourself?
Very weird to be honest. Perhaps it helps me present my replies to some extent, but I often feel I might be rambling or boring the interviewer. Feel free to tell me if I did Pete haha.
Interview Pete Woods
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