It is true. We do live in an age of information overload. Not only in terms of easy access to music but also overload in the amount of opinion there is about…anything. There are thousands of blogs and websites dedicated to “revealing” the underground, telling us what is “good” and what is “bad” in the underground but also in the mainstream.
One of – or the originator of metal on the Internet is Death Metal Underground which was started back in the 1980s on a bulletin board system. I had the opportunity of asking the founder, Brett Stevens, a few questions regarding the website’s history and the current state of heavy metal. We had a lot to talk about, about loads of interesting and controversial topics like elitism, sexism, the underground and why metal is not a form of “entertainment”.
First of all, Brett, could you tell us a bit about yourself? What is your background? What do you do outside the “metal world”? Like you asked me previously, I am going to ask you: does your day job overlap with your metal identity and life?
I do a really poor job of talking about myself. I don’t find myself interesting. Most of this is because what I find intriguing in life tends to be the connections between people, ideas and actions. Thus when I look at myself, I see a man standing before an immense machine, working it to try to make it create objects of simple form yet complex texture and implication. The man we don’t notice, really, but what comes out of the machine we pay attention to. Metal does not overlap with my day identity at all. I portray myself as the relatively normal person I believe myself to be: a functional family man who takes pride in his work, community and personal integrity. I used to be a more out-of-the-closet metalhead, but once I saw how people used identity as a shield, I dropped all personal artifacts. If people are going to get to know me, it’s going to have to be for character traits like honesty, loyalty, creativity in problem solving (and nothing else), tree-worship, etc.
What are you currently listening to? Is there anything new out there which you can’t stop listening to? Are there any releases or bands which you go back to very often?
There’s very little new that I think is worth attending to at all. Around 1994, metal ran out of ideas; now, bands are either rehashing the past (diehards) or “innovating” by incorporating even older genres. “Progressive death metal” is basically 1980s hardcore combined with mid-1970s jazz-fusion; “post-metal” is 1980s emo and UK shoegaze combined with pop-punk and indie. If you mix The Dillinger Escape Plan with Kenny G, Spyro Gyra and Biohazard, you get “tek-death.” The whole genre is a scam, basically, but metal fans haven’t noticed. The diehards are doing the same thing. The surface says Blasphemy/Sarcofago, but underneath, it’s sped-up versions of Minor Threat or Cro-Mags. The entire diehard arena is a scam, too. So there are very few truly new bands worth looking at. I’ve spent my time focusing on the exceptions while trying to find any bands that plausibly might make a go of being a post-94 metal band, but there are very few credible candidates and even most of those debunk themselves.
Much of what I listen to is newer bands composed of old school members or newer fans who want to continue the old school movement but not repeat it. They’ve rejected the newer nonsense as the derivative soulless plastic crap it is. Notable bands to watch include Blaspherian, Imprecation, the latest Burzum, the newest War Master EP Blood Dawn and a band from Colombia called Cóndor. The latter is sort of bluesy doom-metal done up like a power metal band but with the comisc visions of black metal or old school stoner doom. As far as daily listening, about 75% of what I listen to is classical music, usually Saint-Saens, Bach, Handel, Wagner, Beethoven, Respighi, Mozart or Bruckner. I am also fond of a lot of baroque, especially Locatelli and Corelli, and some early music. The remaining quarter is metal, and I tend to revert to the true classics like Slayer, Massacra, Sepultura, Hellhammer, Bathory, Incantation and Merciless, with some focus on the really amazing bands from the mature death metal genre like Demilich, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Amorphis, Demigod and Atheist. Also there’s still a lot of Kraftwerk and Dead Can Dance in there.
Death Metal Underground (DMU) or deathmetal.org claims to be the oldest and longest-running metal website. When was it exactly started?
We are the oldest and longest-running metal website but also the oldest and longest-running metal presence on the internet. DMU started out as a series of textfiles I uploaded to the Neon Knights bulletin board called The Metal AE once online at (201) 879-6668 (pw=KILL). You accessed BBS-style systems like this over regular phone lines, calling up with your 300, 1200 or 2400 baud modem from a 1980s-style desktop computer (still called a “personal computer” or “PC” back then). There was one password to access the system and no user accounts, so you just uploaded and downloaded files. Initially I was interested in computer security, programming and networking information, but I saw that other people were using this AE as an alternate source of information for finding new bands and learning about metal. I started typing up lyrics and migrated to writing reviews, uploading them to the Metal AE and other similar systems.
Later I had a BBS of my own (the Apocalyptic Funhouse) where I made the files available, encouraged metal discussion, and posted about metal shows in addition to my reviews. People responded and thought this was great. I did this until I went to college, where I copied the files to a directory on my account on a mainframe computer and made them accessible via anonymous FTP. I started communicating with people over email and USENET, which was like an all-internet distributed (and rules-free) forum. Eventually, I was able to get access in my room and ran a web server on my computer under first DesqVIEW and later Windows 3.11 multitasking. I had a little window in the background which showed me which pages were downloaded as people visited, and I got somewhat addicted to watching what paths they chose through the information mesh.
That early website was sort of a catch-all site with a separate area for reviews of the bands I was playing on my radio show (Oration of Disorder: 1992-1998) broadcasting into Los Angeles. This got more response and soon a lot of people were visiting. After a couple years of that, I took the show to its own domain and it has lived in various places, finally appearing on DeathMetal.org sometime in 2011-2012 which is the first time the site has had a whole domain dedicated just to it. There are two parts to the site; a webzine and in http://www.deathmetal.org/bands/ the original “archives” or a library of information about bands, including The Heavy Metal FAQ at http://www.deathmetal.org/faq. You might enjoy my recent article “Hacker Metal” on Perfect Sound Forever which covers the early days and what it was like to be in a total desert of metal information, using borrowed network time and early cyberpunk techniques to learn about heavy metal.
Your mission is to “spread two ideas: (a) that heavy metal is a form of art and not “entertainment” and (b) the origins of heavy metal are in the Romantic movement in art and literature, whose imagery and ideals it carries to this day.” Was that the website’s mission from the beginning of its existence?
The website began as an exploration of metal. It took a few years of listening, writing, going to shows, talking to experts like Richard C and the Sadistic Intent guys and interviewing musicians to reach any conclusions. I documented those in The Heavy Metal FAQ which was published in fragments but reached its final form in 1996. Before metal, I had two interests, literature and hacking. Skills from both applied in the analysis of metal, which is both informational in its riff lexicon and follows the convention of good fiction or poetry. At that point, I was listening to a lot of melodic death metal and black metal, and it became clear to me that what I was seeing resembled, in concept and theme and imagery, the early European or later American Romanticism.
There are obvious connections through the Gothic movement, an offshoot of later Romanticism, as expressed in writers like Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker from whom all horror movies and dark stories descend. On the American continent, Poe and Lovecraft feature prominently in metal lyrics and image. Even greater connections existed to the Romantic poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron. Not so much for the social side of their poetry, but for the experience of a raw spirit isolated in a cold world and alienated from the “solutions” that most people apply to restrain that coldness. In metal, the tensions that existed within Romanticism play themselves out but in a more vivid and violent framework. Where Coleridge wrote about Xanadu, death metal bands wrote about the occult and mystical wars; where Wordsworth wrote about Tintern Abbey, metal bands wrote about suicide and the nihilism of the cosmos.
This wasn’t the mission from the beginning but it soon became part of the overall purpose of metal study. One reason I got into network computing was to put out an e-zine (The Undiscovered Country) so that people didn’t have to use paper, which I saw as wasteful. It was clear to me that soon computers would be everywhere because they made everyday tasks much less onerous, and I wanted people to be able to read stories, poems and essays using these devices. That way, there wouldn’t be quite as much landfill — in theory. As time went on, and I expanded into metal, it made sense to look for parallels between these different influential areas of thought and as it turned out, I found out that one segment of literature (Romanticism) corresponded to what metal was attempting to do.
Could you expand on those ideas which DMU aims to spread? Why do you, as DMU, not consider metal a form of entertainment? Do the roots of heavy metal make it special – or different – from other genres?
“Entertainment” is such a condescending word. You entertain a small child, or a Weimaraner, or maybe a room full of senile elderly. Entertainment essentially means distraction, or some nonsense show that keeps people clapping their hands and singing songs for long enough that their caretakers can take a break. To my mind, pop music and radio music are quintessential entertainment. You take nothing from those songs because they’re designed to be non-useful. They’re not there to enhance your time; they’re there to distract you from what you’re going through. Sometimes that’s great, having Whitney Houston singing in the background to think about while you’re at the dentist; you wouldn’t want Wagner or Beherit for that.
But when you sit down to listen to something, you want an experience that changes you. Something that you can take away from the experience and enjoy, like you would after reading a good book. It’s not necessarily factual information, although that may be a component of it, but really good art — like literature, a poem, a movie, or a painting — changes you because it forces you to look at the process of getting from one state of mind to another. In contrast, advertising and entertainment deal in end results. Buy this product, you’ll have a bigger schlong. Listen to this song, you’ll get laid. Art is… art forces you to see the void and find something meaningful in it. By the void, I mean uncertainty in life; we can’t even be sure of what life is, much less what it isn’t, so for all we know it’s a computer construct, the playground of a thoughtful God, a tiny slice of all that exists, or a free-for-all where demonic forces battle for supremacy. Thus to look into the void is to look into that uncertainty, to face nihilism and the realization of potential nothingness, and yet to find out who we are. What we value. All good art takes you from point A to point B and along the way you learn something, and it subtly shapes how you view the world and gives you the energy of having new thoughts to play with.
Metal does not entertain. It is by definition “heavy,” or in the hippie lexicon of the time of its birth having weighty subject matter, and thus it is the opposite of entertainment. Entertainment is Shakira, the early years of the Beatles, Jay-Z, television and Adam Sandler movies. When Black Sabbath formed, the idea was to make music that sounded like horror movies. These attract a different audience and hide their more serious subject matter under a gloss of pulp fiction and amateur filmmaking. But it’s a disguise, whether intentional or not, for the more intense stuff that waits within. Heavy metal is a confrontation with mortality and thus, a question about what life means and how it should be lived, which leads to an intense morality that’s more developed than “do what other people find inoffensive and sell them stuff.” It’s closer to philosophy or religion than the song and dance of entertainment. When Black Sabbath started out, they were reactionary contrarians. Everyone else was celebrating flower power, peace and love and the new order of the Age of Aquarius. Why are you harshin’ on my buzz, man? Bringing me down with all those songs about war, Satan, death and evil? Metal is not here to enhance your buzz. It’s here to enhance your sense of meaning to life. That brings it into the realm of art, not entertainment.
How does the review-selecting process work on DMU; are there any bands or types of articles which you prioritise? What do you consider “worthy” of a feature on DMU?
My first requirement is that we be utterly open-minded. That is, anyone can send in anything and we’ll give it a listen and see what we think of it. During that time, we must be without any prior bias, including novelty bias or a desire to seem open-minded by accepting anything that is not what we expected. The point is to still the mind and remove all expectation. To hit play and have an empty brain, no idea of what is coming, no chatter in the skull about what it might be. To accept the music, and then see what it can communicate, because all good art communicates.
Generally, however, releases quickly slot themselves in one of four categories:
1. Unexceptional. This stuff is either derivative, incoherent or both. Usually it’s a B-grade mimickry of one or more successful bands.
2. OK. This means basic competence has been achieved. You want your local bands to be at this level. “Basic competence” is a holistic view, meaning that the end product is basically competent. One can reach this stage with good songwriting and bad musical ability, or great musical ability and bad songwriting. Many stay at this level because despite being good musicians and songwriters, they write songs about nothing, so they are pure mechanics and resemble advertising jingles more than art.
3. OK+. If this band is early in their career, they’re worth giving benefit of the doubt and supporting, especially demo bands. If it’s late in their career, they’ve peaked long ago. Generally these bands have a fairly clear purpose, may or may not be derivative in style, but are coming up with some content on their own.
4. Exceptional. This band has a clear purpose and communicates it clearly. As a result, it is unlikely to be fully derivative in style, but might be in rare cases. However, content is clearly articulate, songs are well-crafted, details are managed and randomness is minimized.
There’s not much to say about bands from the first two categories because these categories are designed for bands early in their career. If you’re both minimally musically competent and personally organized, you should be able to hit the third category without much problem. Your first couple demos may be the first and second category, respectively, and there’s no shame in it. The problem is that most bands fall into the second category in that they have basic competence but nothing else. They are not writing songs to express anything; they are writing songs so that they (the band members as individuals) can participate in the process known as music. As a result, nothing is conveyed. The band is aesthetics only and surface-only. Even bands who are musically exceptional but empty of any driving ideas to write about fit in this category. The forth category is for bands who unite a strong vision with strong ability to express it. These end up in the Dark Legions Archive, our “best of” of metal.
Because of the website’s mission and especially the claim that heavy metal is not “entertainment” but art, many can consider your website as “elitist”. Did you come across that and have you had any problems with that?
Elitism in my mind means that you pick the best so you do not waste your time. If you have two hours a day to read, will you pick a dumb/predictable novel or an interesting one? Metal is much the same way. Everyone and their dog wants to be in heavy metal because it has a certain tinge of rebellion about it that is both helpful for marketing oneself personally and marketing a product. It’s easy to make heavy metal, but harder to do it well than in other genres. As a result you have a giant inflow of music, most of which is idiotic, and a huge number of fans. At that point, it’s a marketing question. How can you con enough of these fans into buying so that you make a profit? As a label, the best business model for you would be a product that was cheap to make and easy to sell. If something sells just for being “metal,” that’s optimal. You get five anonymous guys in a room with instruments, give them a name, get them to slap together some songs based on other successful songs, and then record and sell it. You can churn them out the door, just like a factory.
Generally, this is what the music industry does. There’s a trend of the day, like rock or rap or alternative or country. Record labels buy media resources in advance and start soliciting bands. Musicians, who want to get paid like everyone else, send them demos. The label picks the demos that work out OK and send them to work with a producer/songwriter who smoothes out the rough edges and creates shining miracle pop out of what otherwise might have been a confused, haphazard demo. The label promotes the band, the band sells well, and the label keeps them like livestock because the band needs the producers and publicity. This is a business model that makes people rich. The problem is that it results in music that is mostly derivative of itself and, because it was never written about anything, might have an appearance of being emotional or interesting but lacks enough content depth to keep anyone’s interest.
Elitists are people who rebel against this. We realize that in this entire system which is designed for profit and popularity, the good bands slip through only accidentally. Labels don’t care about quality; they care about trendiness (with a few notable and lovely exceptions). The reason is simple: they need to get paid. You do not get paid waiting around for a great artist or movement to show up. You get paid by pumping out a product, getting 19% or whatever of the people out there to buy it, and then doing the same thing next week. You get paid more in inverse proportion to how much time you need to spend finding, cultivating and creating this product. In music, the product is the music, since printing the media isn’t a real impediment and is basically automated. Elitists think that only the best music matters because people’s time is valuable. It doesn’t matter who you are; you don’t have the time or energy to listen to all of it. So pick the best, cast back the rest, and through a process of natural selection the genre gets stronger. I support MP3 downloading for the same reason. A purchase of a mediocre band is a vote for mediocrity. When people get more selective, fools and liars can’t make money in the genre, so they go elsewhere.
The problem with the term “elitist” is that it has been hijacked by hipsters who want to use it to mean “I know something you don’t know.” Where the mainstream values novelty via trendiness, hipsters conceal their trends as anti-trends. If everyone else is listening to country, the hipsters are listening to 8-bit Gothic new-wave hip-hop. Hipsters define themselves by what they are not. Their goal is to be “different” and “unique” and use this for social power. Naturally, hipsters love heavy metal, which is a natural iconoclast and thus is favored by deliberately self-styled iconoclasts like hipsters. To a hipster, elitism means knowing bands that no one else has heard of, and claiming these are good. What hipsters do really well — hence their importance to industry — is to create “new” aesthetics out of recombined, exaggerated and repurposed older ideas. Their bands all sound GREAT, on the surface. As you listen, you find out it’s all illusion and that underneath the aesthetic, they’re bog-standard rock that’s actually not even interesting.
As a result I’ve used the term “elitist” less of late. The principle remains: quality over quantity.
What does the word “underground” mean to you? Which bands fall under that category and which do not? Does popularity immediately remove you from the underground scene? Can one be popular, successful, making money out of their music and still be “underground” in spirit? When does a band become “mainstream”, a “sell out” and stops being “underground”?
“Underground” means something which cannot express itself in socially accepted means. For our society, music is expected to be a product and not a cultural or artistic venture. As a result, bands that aim for art and not entertainment won’t make it far in the recording industry. Some bands come close to that level by being a mixture of the two, like Judas Priest or Iron Maiden. It’s unclear whether those bands could get signed today if they were new.
Undergrounds hide themselves to avoid social detection because undergrounds are inherently asocial. There’s a literary underground in this country which rejects not only big corporate publishers, but the academic-literary MFA-dominated press and even the socially popular literature that basically panders to niche group interests. The hacker underground existed in the 1980s because all the cool computing power was in the hands of business, government and academia, and these entities had an interest in keeping it controlled. Hackers found ways around the rules based on a better understanding of the technology at its most basic level. They formed an underground basically to publish information. This was primarily through text files, which were 10-40k instructional documents that often included lengthy technical information, and conference calls, where hackers met on open lines and talked and someone recorded it (these tapes are still treasured). In both cases, these groups stay underground because public opinion is afraid of what they know and wants to control the information itself.
Metal went underground because the record industry decided in the early 1980s that it wanted glam bands like Mötley Crüe because it could sell those to anyone, where harder bands like Metallica sold only to the metal audience. NWOBHM bands had been a proto-underground, like the punk bands arising in parallel around them, because labels wouldn’t sign music that was too far removed from rock’n’roll as the buying public wanted it. When Metallica came about, labels were freaked out by the aggressive new sound and at first would have nothing to do with it. Following in NWOBHM’s footsteps, bands began putting out their own demos, printing their own 7″ records, and playing shows in out of the way clubs that were advertized only in small zines and on college radio. In other words, they made the audience select itself by being willing to do things the mainstream would not; they picked music fanatics as their audience, not just casual listeners. The result was that better bands got kicked to the top quickly and could then have a chance of being signed.
After Slayer, it was clear the battle lines were drawn. To be more extreme than Reign in Blood was to basically give the finger to the entire industry. When death vocals got popularized, probably by people imitating Motorhead, it became clear that this was a sound that would keep a band out of the mainstream, and thus make the band able to define its own audience. Bands liked this when they were young, as it let them create music without limits, although as soon as they started hoping to make a living off their music they found it an impediment. But that was the whole point: get outside of the plastic, everything-is-great, advertising-driven, voter-flattering, and pleasantly vapid (“bourgeois” to some) consensual reality that is modern life, and instead find something real. This mirrors rock’s pursuit of tha authentic since day one… people have always known that rock is a product, because musically it’s indistinguishable from the country and folk music that went before it. Thus rock bands try to invent “authenticty” or a reason why they’re there for some reason other than the money. You can achieve authenticity through status in an endangered group, political activism, denial of modern lifestyle or any other behavior that’s “different,” which is why hipsters and advertisers both try to be quirky, unique, contrarian, etc.
The underground was an attempt to get outside of the whole world and instead of appearing authentic, to simply be authentic. Being authentic has two parts: first, you make music for some reason other than money; second, you don’t try to be popular, because they instant you try for popularity you will have to be less truthful in order to tell people the simple pleasant lies they want to hear instead of complex truths. Like hardcore punk before it, metal flew the banner of hating society. The aggressive vocals, intense music, and focus on taboo topics like occultism, disease, murder and war ensured that this music could never be sold out. And yet it could, because there were bands who came along and made “fun” vapid versions of the same, starting with Cannibal Corpse. Their lyrics were comical and amusing and their music easily digested. Other bands had been funny, but never to the point of making baby food out of steak. Cannibal Corpse opened the door to commercial death metal.
All of this is background to your vital question: can a band make money and still be “underground” in spirit? Yes, of course. Underground means honest. It means you say what you need to say without first considering how other people will react and whether they’ll like it and be your friend, or buy it, or otherwise support it. Some bands have always been underground and successful, like King Crimson and Kraftwerk. Other bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica and Mercyful Fate eventually found enough acceptance to make good careers of it. They didn’t make it to the level of the Shakiras or Jay-Zs or Beatles of the world, but that might be a good thing… at that level, pressure is on to make a product that is perfect in form and contentless in innards, so it could drive anyone mad.
When does a band become a sell out? Whenever they’re making music to be popular instead of to lay down the law and tell it like it is.
Do you think the music / metal industry has become too professional?
The problem with the metal industry is that it’s an industry. It makes no sense to have industry control art, just like it makes no sense to have the general audience control art. We know what the general audience and industry both want, which is the musical equivalent of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, or other high-earning fat-margin products. I am not even sure I like having industry in control of food; I think there should be some system of values above it that keeps it from being abusive. But we don’t live in a time of systems of values. We live in a time of individual choices, and thus we’re only as smart as a species as the weakest mind among us.
The section with scanned zines from the 80s and 90s on the DMU website is the most impressive section for me. How did that come about and are there any plans on expanding the archive?
Back in the 1980s, I archived all the text files my friends and I could find on my BBS. A few years later, they weren’t available anywhere else. It was extensive for the day, reaching into the tens of megabytes. When people started scanning zines, I went ahead and did the same. It’s amazing how quickly this stuff will drop off the radar. People get married, and sell all their old stuff. Or they fall on hard times and do the same. Or they lose interest and move on to something else. However it happens, the information is lost. Over time it degrades. Recordings decay, meanings are forgotten, stories get mangled in the retelling, ideas are lost. Thus I started uploading all these files in one place, knowing that the network of traders/blogspot blogs that normally host these will vanish sooner rather than later, and I’d rather be a librarian for this information than allow it to vanish to the winds of time. Most people, by the way, hate what I’m doing. They want to be only the person who has X zine or Y zine from 1993, and to them, I’m taking away their social identity and what makes them unique. To people who come in the future, this will be a chance to see what the underground was actually like.
Do you read any metal print magazines? In this age of mobile apps and the Internet do you think they are still important and worth purchasing?
Another somewhat controversial idea here, but I think zines are more important than ever before. Back in the 1980s through mid 1990s, printing was expensive and in the hands of relatively few people. Mainstream magazines had zero interest in underground death metal because niche marketing wasn’t understood yet and these magazines were generally in the hands of people who resented metal for upping the ante. When you’ve heard death metal, how does indie noise pop sound in any way like anything other than a Beatles clone band with a bad amp? The media was threatened by underground movements but suspected, as happened with punk, that it would eventually assimilate them by waiting until the musicians hit their 30s and then buying them out so they could have homes, families, etc. Because the media wouldn’t cover it, zines sprang up to cover underground metal. They were the sole possible source of information then, other than college radio or for us lucky nerds the pre-internet BBS networks.
Now, however, buying a zine is a choice. It’s not an investment in a medium, the xeroxed small-run zine, but an investment in the editors and their choices and taste. We are relying on zines now as tastemakers more than raw information sources. Information? We’ve got it — we’re drowning in it. There are 50 metal releases a month and the nitwits who run (most) webzines and mainstream magazines write the same exact review for each one, telling us all about how advanced it is, open-minded, tear your head off, etc. People are aware of all this stuff and don’t have time to read all of it, much less figure out which of it is true. They’re relying on proxies instead. Our most popular articles are the end-of-year roundups because they let people go off to their distros with a shopping list. In the same way, people read zines to figure out what to buy. They want editors to give them interviews of the bands that matter and reviews of the bands that are new that are worth hearing. They’re looking for depth of coverage, not currency or status (such as being “underground” itself).
As a result, I think more people now are relying on zines than any time since the mid-to-late 90s when the classic zines sort of dropped out because there was nothing good to cover. I read Codex Obscurum on a regular basis; it’s an old-school-style zine from the East Coast. There are a few metal sites I read regularly, including Rivethead by the editors of that former print magazine. I pick up books like Glorious Times and the Slayer mag compilation to catch up on anything I missed from back in the day. I like to find writers and editors I trust to have an eye for quality, and then when they give something the thumbs up, I go off and download it. I think most of us old school types follow this pattern, and many of the newer fans too.
What do you think of sexism in metal? In my opinion, there are far more women in bands and fans but metal lyrics and artwork still tend to objectify women. I believe that the inclusion of women in bands and the “scene” is not enough. We have to change our mind set with less objectifying and womanising and coming to the terms that both genders are equal. What do you think? (Obviously, this also applies to the whole world and not only metal…)
I guess I’d probably want to ask women about this. In my experience, what people want is closer to “being unique” than “being equal.” People talk a lot about equality because it gives them the impression that if they’re equal, they can do what they want without the rest of the herd gathering up to beat them. But in my experience, nothing stops the herd from finding someone — hackers, Satanists, drug users, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Pagans, bankers, politicians — to blame for its problems and form a lynch mob/witch hunt against. The question is whether women want to be in a male role, whether they want a female role, or whether they want a genderless role. Based on my experience, most of them are going to want that female role. At that point, you have to look at different metal genres and wonder whether women will fit in those roles. Some do, obviously. Bands like Derketa, Acrostichon, Sinister, Bolt Thrower, Funerus and Bahimiron had female personnel. But do you want to make it a focal point, so that they get known as “that band with women in it” instead of just “this band that I think is killer”? Quotas create expectations.
The sad truth is that in the quest to find Oteps, Doros, and Angela Gossows we overlook what a lot of women have done, which is to run labels, write zines, book shows, manage bands, and otherwise keep the industry going. I guess that leaves us with the question of whether the genders want to share roles or have roles of their own. As a nihilist, I’m suspicious of any values that are not derived from nature, reality and/or the cosmos itself, so my thought is… let natural selection decide. Derketa would still be on my playlist if it was all hairy dudes in the band. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve made it legit. They tend not to mention that there are women in the band. I think a huge step forward might be letting women be in bands, and define their own roles in them, without approaching them with a paternalistic concern for underrepresentation or a desire to sexualize them.
I could do without those “50 Hottest Women in Metal” articles the big metal moron magazines keep running, but you know what? Markets are proxies for votes and I’m outvoted. The audience, which is both male and female — probably about 40% female, seems to like these magazines and not mind these articles. I’m still not a fan of Cannibal Corpse lyrics or other gendered lyrics. Death metal was best when it was genderless in lyrics. The point was not to have some sacrificial victim, like a virgin, but to bring home to each of us that “Only death is real.” In other words, ignore the plastic world of consensual “reality” and through mortality, realize the primacy of actual reality. Natural reality. Cosmic reality. Informational reality. Anything but the social reality that most people flee to in order to avoid thoughts of death, disease, predation, terror, the occult, the mysterious, etc. that they fear.
What drives you to keep on writing about metal?
I started writing on a small scale, and people said they liked it. I wrote more; people still liked it. At some point, I hit a ceiling because the way I write and what I’m writing about are not going to compete with the baby food you’re going to find in big magazines and on big sites. But those are pitched at people who care less about musical relevance, and more about its trendiness and novelty, so there’s no match there anyway. The aboveground of yesterday is the “Underground”(tm)(r)(sm) of today. At the end of the day, three things keep me going. First, people I respect read what I write and communicate about it. Next, I believe in the music and its ideas; it represents an advancement for humanity over pop, rock, jazz, rap and the plastic consensual reality most people cling to. Finally, it’s fun; I like to write about metal, because I enjoy (exceptional) metal in a way that no other music has as a genre touched me.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!
You too, hope this isn’t too long, but there’s a lot of conceptual backstory. I appreciate the interview and look forward to reading more from you.