Copied Vergatim from the original Pitchfork interview....
Column: Show No Merc
Column by Brandon Stosuy | Photo by Withered photo by Paul Romano | WOLD photo courtesy of WOLD
Wold, the harsh Saskatchewan duo of Fortress Crookedjaw and Obey, straddle noise and black metal in a way that refuses to concede to either genre. Their third album, Stratification, an excellent white-out of crackling feedback and snowbound black metal, deconstructs the more "song-based" Screech Owl, one of my favorite albums of 2007. The new record's the purest distillation of their intent and overall aesthetic to date. To get an idea, listen to "Nine Paths" below and "Frost Crystal Symmetry" at Profound Lore.
I've been corresponding a bit with Crookedjaw, who writes the words, plays guitars, electronics, and "devices," and sings with that unmistakable blown-out witch's howl, and asked if he'd answer a series of questions about Stratification. His answers, along with those of guitarist Obey, follow. Stratification's focus is winter, but when Wold titles a song "Sleigh Ride", you should know to expect a different kind of wonderland.
Pitchfork: How did you come up with the title "Stratification"? How does it relate to the winter landscape of the collection?
Fortress Crookedjaw: I will explain the ideology behind Stratification. The title and sentiment behind the lyrics relates to my view of humanity. I could explain it as simply as possible in that the concept for Stratification revolves around the idea that domination within social strata is dictated by numerous factors. Human beings utilize devices made available to them through the potential resources presented by the particular social stratum. That is the psychic blizzard that inspired Stratification. Human beings will exploit the opportunities, within a particular social stratum, as well as within merging strata, to achieve a sense of contentment, or rectification, revenge, enchantment, conclusion, prestige, and pleasure. Individual awareness and identity within social stratification is limited to fractured drive based principles that are appeased through mechanisms particular to the social strata's hierarchies. Power is determined in accordance with factional positions through hierarchies within a stratum and merging strata. The process is not necessarily overt. From this point of departure a drive to keep the outside from coming inside can take control and this is somewhat of a paranoid ideal. Within the stratification of the seasons winter is an imperator.
Pitchfork: I read this statement about the inspiration behind the album at the Profound Lore site: "Music inspired by winter or music that tells winter tales in general... played as a huge influence; such as Winterreise by Franz Schubert among many others. Also later stuff like Richard Strauss' use of high soprano vocals, especially Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and even some Polish shit like Lutoslawski's Twenty Carols. I was also inspired by the sickness of Romantic music and the ideal of an eternal feminine spirit. Stratification is nihilistic with its escape into harsh whiteouts and its procession of graceful crystal-like airy sounds."
When I spoke to you around the time of Screech Owl, you mentioned Goethe as a poet/writer you read. He's quoted in the Stratification jewel case: It's from the Walpurgis Night scene in Faust, right? What's its significance to you? And can you talk more about the "sickness of Romantic music and the ideal of an eternal feminine spirit"?
Fortress Crookedjaw: Yes, the Goethe quote is from "Walpurgis Night" but it's the exact moment and not the scene that is of relevance. Mephistopheles reacts to Faust, who is invigorated by the coming of spring, with the assertion: "Myself I notice no such thing. I feel the winter in my belly and wish for snow and frost to line my path." I felt that the quote nicely captured the overall tone of Stratification. There are some aspects of Goethe's ideas that I completely resist, such as his promotion of the learning of foreign languages. I think that a nation and individual should focus on one language.
In regards to your question about the ideal of an eternal feminine spirit, it's a reference once again to Goethe. Specifically to the final scene from the second part of Faust: "eternal feminine draws us on high." It is the great escape; the dizzying cloud of purity; the sweet virgin's invitation; mother's outstretched nurturing arms. This could denote some kind of possible quest for relief, and it is the sharp lie in which the artist weaves but the little blond maiden is still a pleasure seeking beast. The sentiment caused Nietzsche, in reaction to Wagner, to write: "eternal feminine draws us down," and still after Strauss tried to capture it through his captive soprano endeavor. Maybe it's an attempt to discover lost moments that never really happened?
Pitchfork: In the statement quote above regarding inspirations, you don't talk about black metal. Do you still consider what you're doing part of the black metal impulse/aesthetic/philosophy?
Fortress Crookedjaw: Wold doesn't really feel part of anything. Although just the fact that you asked that question I think shows that Wold is part of "black metal." The category of black metal, or any type of taxonomy, is as true as its utility. It really goes back to the title of the album. Human beings, and many other animals for that matter, are only truly truthful in that they labor and divide. Or I could say that they are driven to create hierarchies and apply systems of classifications to maintain certain orders, and in doing so establish truths. That is until other truths confiscate them and create the new truths and it goes on like this forever.
Now I understand that from the press releases with all my talk about 19th century music it could lead to confusion. The connection is more subtle than directly technical in that the high pitch abstract tones on the CD are inspired from various 19th and early 20th century song and opera; soprano vocals and other tones in stuff like "Four Last Songs", "The Woman Without a Shadow", and "Elektra". I find that many of the works by Richard Strauss contain a certain psychological aspect. But the relationship is poetic and inspirational and not technical and compositional. In regards to contemporary black metal, I can't comment too much. There is interesting audio being created in many different categories. I trade with a few bands. I enjoy the work of other folks who execute worthy art.
Obey: It's fully within a black metal aesthetic. The impulse to create extreme raw art is very much at the core of Wold. To me polished black metal with a produced sheen has a lacquered patina that represents a dissembling of the original intention of the true independent wave of black metal. Wold is no different than we've ever been. We've had no profound transitions or epiphanies that have altered Wold's M.O. We attempt to remain consistent in our aesthetic methods. Philosophically we adhere to a self imposed discipline of an insular nature and contempt for the mediocre. As contemporary black metal goes those who are aligned to a militaristic sense of the DIY ethic and an authenticity of expression generally warrant approval.
Pitchfork: You've always gone a different route with your cover art, moving further away form the usual black metal aesthetic. Stratification's cover is perhaps the most unique in its sort of "white out" sleigh ride. How did you come up with it? Who's S.F.J. Nicholl? Did you work closely together?
Fortress Crookedjaw: We've worked with Nicholl since L.O.T.M.P. and we have a connection that goes back even further. I know that he's very much inspired by late-1980s and early-90s black metal tape covers. I guess his work would be different if you are referring to the digital cut and paste album cover "art" that has soiled and insulted the visual aspects of black metal.
Obey: I believe the cover art has moved closer to the black metal aesthetic of the early 90s which is the apotheosis of the genre. While not an appropriation of medieval wood-cuts, there is a similitude with such artifacts. We requested that the artist pictographically represent a sleigh ride in a blizzard to visually unify the packaging with the intent of the music. As we were pleased with his work on Screech Owl, we felt our only option was to use him again.
Pitchfork: Across Stratification there are various references to things that may conjure the idea of religion, or a sort of sacredness, in many peoples' minds as they relate to winter. Can you talk some more about your experiences with actual winter material winter. Is part of this album born from nostalgia? Are we to read some sort of sacred experience into this?
Fortress Crookedjaw: My experience with winter has been one of frozen limbs and submission. I very much enjoy winter, although I would not want to be trapped out in it without shelter. It is gratifying to see the city streets cleaned of all life because of winter. There is a wonderful quiet that falls across the area, and aesthetically it is pleasing with the beautiful white snow and frost. So as far as sacredness it depends on what your idea of "sacred" is. If it is some autonomous force, then no, "White Winter Wander" is not a spiritual song. The religious talk is used as rhetoric in reaction to certain factions of religious sentiment that could cause a nihilism which is disguised as something holy or graceful or fulfilling. There is an awareness of the idealization of winter in Stratification. The wonder of winter could not have been arrived at without experiencing the cold indifference of actual winter. Of course there is a certain nostalgia that is integral to the creation of Stratification. There is no doubt that Stratification is soaking in nihilistic religious sentiment but not without provocation, and it is distinct from and in reaction to slave morality religion. In this sense the spiritual in "White Winter Wanderer" could be viewed as euphemism for privacy.
Obey: Winter does not care about you, and neither do we. Nostalgia can be defined as past pain. The nostalgia of winter should then be considered the excruciating burn of frostbite. If this is something you have a penchant for, good on you.
Pitchfork: Musically, you've loosened the structured even more since Screech Owl. The feedback and distortion, though, sounds more level-- like a level field, the constant fall of snow. Did you approach Stratification differently than you have past recordings? Was the recording process linked conceptually to the idea of the winter landscape it creates?
Fortress Crookedjaw: I had total control this time. I had less irritating distractions around me for the recording process. I looked after all of the foundational primary track composition in a very undemocratic fashion. This allowed for me to concentrate on creating a more cohesive album. The recording process is completely linked to the creation.
Obey: Actually we've tightened the structure. The goal is to keep tightening the screw. I agree that the feedback and distortion are more mono-otic. As to our recording methods our approach on Stratification is in consonance with past releases. The process didn't change, but we transmogrified the idea of our soundscape to fit the notion of an unrelenting winter storm.
Pitchfork: "The Frozen Field" stands out musically form the other tracks with its more chaotic, upfront percussion. And, lyrically, too: "mist dominatrix." Often there's a contrast between the harshness of sounds vs. an almost pensive lyricism. But on this track we get this dominatrix. Where does this song fit in Stratification's landscape?
Fortress Crookedjaw: Well the mind can cause its own type of frostbite. Maybe it's about the possible mental terror that can arise from thought reflection, especially from in a state of cold solitude. The song could act as a prod to emphasize that even the most seemly inviting beauty or putative drive for purity can at the same time also be depended upon an unconscious coprophilic desire.
Pitchfork: With songs like "Nine Paths" and "Nine Creeks", it's almost as if you're laying out map for us to follow. Perhaps to the "Auld Tree". Am I reading too deeply?
Fortress Crookedjaw: No, you aren't reading it too deeply. You're providing apt understanding because there is a loose linear narrative to Stratification. It is conceptual, although it isn't some journey of "self discovery." From a lyrical perspective there isn't any enlightenment in the journey or the destination.
Obey: I like your reading of the work as a total and your map analogy is very good. It is interesting though that even in the middle of a blizzard a map is useless. It is almost as if by an inherent sense of direction that one find's their way, but often time they're found frozen dead in the morning a hundred feet from sanctuary.
Gnaw Their Tongues is the one-man project of Drachten, Friesland-based Mories. He's a prolific composer of dank, orchestral torture-chamber violence. Imagine a more S&M-obsessed Ruins of Beverast or Blut Aus Nord piloted by Peter Sotos and the soundtrack for a noir horror snuff flick. I'm not usually a fan of so many samples, but this stuff comes off like a slasher radio play, so it works. Mories is prolific, putting out EPs and various collections of other sizes. His most recent release is An Epiphanic Vomiting of Blood, which came out on Crucial Blast (and on vinyl via Burning World). You can keep up to date on his activity (there's a lot of it) at his blog and MySpace and take a listen to excerpts from Epiphanic at Crucial Blast. As far as his subject matter, you'll get a better idea in the following. He asked me not to name names regarding any of the samples, so I won't. You can do the research.
Pitchfork: How'd you come up with the name for your project?
Mories: For a while I was really obsessed with the biblical Book of Revelations; that's where it comes from: "And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds."
Pitchfork: Any plans to play live?
Mories: Not in the near future. It's not possible to re-create the sound live, other then with laptops, which I find a little boring. Gnaw was set up to be without boundaries; theme-wise and music-wise. So usually I go really over the top with everything. If I want four bass parts somewhere, there will be five! There are plans for a live band, but that will be under a different name, with maybe one or two other persons. That will include laptops and live instrumentation.
Pitchfork: Your approach (the darkness of the samples and the subject matter of the songs) reminds me of the work of Peter Sotos. As does a song title like ""My Body Is Not a Vessel, Nor a Temple. It's a Repulsive Pile of Sickness"-- his books and his sampling in Whitehouse. Are you a fan?
Mories: The song title is just what it says: no new-age bullshit, just reality. Your body/mind is a decaying piece of shit. No good can come from it. It's a kind of nihilistic view. I know Whitehouse but I'm not really into them. I like the bluntness of their attack but cannot listen to 10 minutes of feedback. I'd rather put something else on. I think their live shows will be something else though. But I have not seen them live yet.
Pitchfork: What are your thoughts on the human body in general? You're obviously fascinated by their workings-- vomiting, pissing, shitting, and, ultimately, rotting. How important is the history of, say, transgressive art and lit to your approach?
Mories: Yes, I think I have an above-average fascination with its working. And I find it kind of beautifull in all its rotten glory. Transgression is only important for me personally. Pushing my own boundaries. Well, having no boundaries at all. As I push my boundaries, so the boundaries of GTT are pushed. What other people think of this is not interesting to me. True crime is a source of inspiration 'cause it shows a side of human beings that fascinates me.
Pitchfork: Who are you musical inspirations? I saw at your MySpace that you list Khanate. That makes sense. What have you learned from them-- Alan Dubin's vocals and cries of terror? Their sense of space?
Mories: Well, I was really into the first wave of black metal/early death metal (1988-1992) when all the bands had there own sound and it was a pretty small scene-- you know, Beherit, Master's Hammer, Darkthrone, early Mayhem, early Samael, Necromantia, Sarcófago. I guess they still serve as inspiration but not an influence.
I like the extremity of Khanate-- the extremely slow tempos. Their sense of space I like, but it has no influence on GTT as there is almost no space in the GTT sound.
Pitchfork: Outside of Leviathan, are you into any contemporary black metal? I was thinking of the warped ambiance of Portal while listening to the most recent album. Actually, I was also thinking of Prurient as a musical ally.
Mories: I like some stuff I hear (Revenge, Archgoat, Ruins Of Beverast) but find most bands boring/dull. I rather listen to contemporary/avant garde classical music. I like the murkiness of Portal and their general mindfuck. I know of Prurient but have not heard his music.
Pitchfork: Gnaw Their Tongues is sometimes described as black metal, though, if so, like the recent Blut Aus Nord or the Ruins of Beverast, you're pushing the genre into new territories.
Mories: I don't really care about black metal/boundaries, whatever. It's just how the music turns out. It's all about letting go. Opening the sub-conscious, and let all the horror flow out freely.
Pitchfork: Does your fascination with bondage and torture bleed at all into your personal life? Or is it all poured into the music?
Mories: "The Urge to Participate in Butchery" is really about recent stuff like what happened in Kenya. Or Uganda 10 years ago. Or in WWII. I'm endlessly fascinated by human nature and how "civilization" crumbles within seconds. "Civilized" people turn to their true animal state within seconds. All over the world there are examples of friendly folk who turn into mass murderers for whatever reason. Civilization is such a fragile thing.
As for bondage and torture, I like the "aesthetics." And I know for sure that I'm dominant.
Pitchfork: On something like "My Body Is Not a Vessel..." are you doing everything? The female vocals are sampled, I assume.
Mories: Yes, I always do everything except for the samples, of course. But even the samples get re-arranged, pitchshifted, warped, fucked up in general. I have build up a huge library of samples, so I have no idea where the female vocals are from. And even if I knew, I would not tell you. I think they create a lot of tension in the beginning of the song, which I like a lot. They give a sense of despair.
The [murder trial] samples on "Teeth That Leer Like Open Graves" are real, but I can't tell you where they're from, for several reasons. But listen carefully and you will know who it is. It's all real, like most of the samples I use. They are usually from real life stuff, not cinema. I stumbled upon them, recorded them, and when I put them together with the intro of the song...magic
Pitchfork: How did you come up with the title, "The Sewer Rats of Calcutta"? It stands out from the other titles-- actually, it could be linked with "Sawn Asunder and Left for the Beasts" somehow. Is there an overall theme connecting all these tracks?
Mories: I read an article about some sewer rats in India that attacked a man. I guess the man was sleeping/drunk or weakened by what not. After that the idea just progressed from there in my head. Also Calcutta, being a very polluted city with open sewers, kind of fit the feeling/atmosphere of an epiphanic in general. I also like the idea of animals taking revenge for all the shit humans have put them through. This is one of the themes in GTT (see also: Preferring Human Skin Over Animal Fur EP, which has the same theme mixed with Ed Gein).
"Sawn Asunder and Left for the Beasts" is a little different. It has kind of the same theme, but with a more gruesome twist. I guess the overall theme is humans harming humans. And the nihilistic freedom of knowing and accepting that we are all shit and fucked in general.
Pitchfork: What do you think an "An Epiphanic Vomiting of Blood" looks like? Listening to the song, I know what one sounds like.
Withered are a crusty, sludgy death-infused band from Atlanta, but they're not Mastodon. Not at all. They have a more blackened sound than the aforementioned, with the tendency to jump from death growl to black metal screech in a single phrase. Though, if you're counting, vocalist/guitarist Mike Thompson and bassist Mike Longoria played in Social Infestation with Mastodon's Troy Sanders. The quartet's sophomore album Folie Circulaire builds upon and further darkens and deepens the sounds of their 2005 debut Memento Mori, giving off a bigger, more progressive punch. The collection closes with a cover of Swedish death metallers Necrophobic's "Into Armageddon" and Napalm Death's Barney Greenway contributes guest vocals to two tracks, including "The Fated Breath", which you can hear below. I spoke with co-founding co-guitarist/vocalist Chris Freeman.
Pitchfork: So the title, Folie Circulaire, refers to bipolar disorder? The songs themselves are quite apocalyptic. And, across the track list, you reference "Gnosis...," man "at war with his nature," vermin, Armageddon, that "there will be no redemption." Where do you see apocalypse and a disorder of the human mind overlapping and the disorder of human nature overlapping?
Chris Freeman: Well, the term was intitially coined by a French psychologist to describe bipolar disorder. Translated loosely it means "cyclic madness," but we primarily referenced it from Nietzsche who used it in a philosophical sense to describe the human experience. We draw much inspiration from existentialist and nihilist philosophies as well as ideas from Jung, Georges Bataille, de Sade, Crowley, and others.
We are using the term to specifically describe the human "condition" and humanity's very nature. Humanity's nature is what will ultimately bring us to Armageddon, it is the path we've chosen. One can just observe the world around us and see what we're doing to the ecosystem, other living creatures, and to ourselves. We are "vermin" on this world, a plague that is destroying itself and everything else. It is in our nature to do this. I used to think that through the socialization process people learned to behave the way they do, but over time I've changed that way of thinking to a degree. Yes, I do believe that socialization has something to do with it, but ultimately I feel it just exacerbates what is already there. At the same time, we're at war with this nature. We constantly try to embrace what we believe (or are told to believe) is "good," while denying that part of us that is considered "bad." This ultimately leads to feelings of guilt and a litany of mental issues.
I don't think the behaviors we write about need to be eradicated; they've just gotten out of control leading to the disaster we face on this planet. I do feel we need to embrace that darker side of ourselves, we need to find a balance, and take responsibility for our actions. It is another theme that runs throughout our art, especially with the lyrics I write, the Jungian/Luciferian idea of embracing the "shadow" self to find enlightenment. The world would be a better place.
Pitchfork: In "Drawn Black Drapes..." I like the line: "I see black drapes/ swaying with the wind." It's a strong image. Can you unpack it some? And, from the same track, "My last words/ will be my first." What does this mean exactly?
Chris: Well, to unpack that line I need to explain the song a little. The song was inspired by a book by Arthur Machen called The Hill of Dreams. Essentially the story deals with an artist/writer who becomes increasingly isolated from and disgusted with humanity and ultimately descends into madness. I referenced that line from the story and applied it to what I feel needs to happen in this world. The song is about choosing a different path, whatever that path may be, to find a better existence. First we have to abandon this path we're on, one we've been traveling on for eons, burn everything down and start anew. What is behind the drapes represents a new enlightenment, a new way of being and existing. "My last words/ Will be my first" can be taken literally or figuratively. It is the Alpha and Omega reversed, the end will be the new beginning.
Pitchfork: It's a really heavy album-- sonically and lyrically-- but I saw Mike's top beer list for Decibel and you guys are conversational in your interviews. So, unlike some of your blackened (or even death) forefathers, you're not necessarily carrying that "darkness" into your everyday situation or the band's image. How important to you is it to maintain a down-to-earth demeanor versus the music?
Chris: I don't know if it's really that important, meaning we don't consciously think about being down to earth or try to be accessible. I think it just comes naturally to us. We've never really tried to cultivate an image, we're just being who we are. I think that's why you'll see us doing things like the Deciblog or cracking up when someone farts. Mike and Beau both should be standup comedians; they would probably make a lot more money doing that than playing in this band. I've always thought the whole truer/darker than thou image was pretentious anyway. If it's who you are then fine, but don't do it just to maintain an image for the masses. Then you're just the black/death metal version of a hipster. You should just trade your bullet belt in for a white studded belt. "Darkness" is such a relative term anyway though, don't you think? It isn't much different from the morality argument. What is considered immoral to you may be completely moral to me.
Pitchfork: How did the recording for Folie Circulaire differ from the last record?
Chris: We actually used a real studio this time instead of laying the tracks down in our practice space like we did for Memento Mori. We also recorded all the songs live, meaning we set up the room, and just played like we would if we were at a show. I think it captured the energy and urgency much more than we did for the first record. Because we were so limited to what we could do with the first album, we were forced to record each instrument individually and then dump them all together. We really went out of our way to capture the mood for this album. Phillip Cope, our producer, pushed us to maintain the mindset we needed to get across what we wanted with the album, he even went there. It is a completely live album, the only overdubs are the vocals and some of the leads and cleanish guitar parts, so what you're hearing is what we would play at a show. No click tracks, no triggered drums or Meshuggah drum sound replacements on there. It is how it should be.
Pitchfork: You have a new rhythm section. How'd that happen? And was the transition smooth?
Chris: The transition was incredibly smooth. The first to join the band was our bassist Mike. He came on board because of the mutual split between us and our old bassist Greg. We needed a replacement because we were about to depart for the Dismember tour. For that tour we recruited our old friend Herb who now plays in Javelina. He did an awesome job for the tour, but we needed someone to fill in on local shows because he lives in Philly. We had known Mike for some time because of his other band, Waited, so we asked him to fill in for a while. One thing led to another, and he became a permanent fixture. We couldn't let him go because he is such an amazing bass player and musician. Around the same time our old drummer, Wes, had recently had a child and really wanted to spend any extra time being a dad, so he put in his notice right after the tour. He stayed on until we found someone that could fill his shoes. He actually was the one to suggest Beau for a tryout. Beau became a full-fledged member of Withered soon after. I can't say enough about him. He is one of the most amazing drummers I've seen or heard. I think having the two of them has really stepped up our music and brought in so many more dynamics than before.
Pitchfork: Barney Greenway lends guest vocals to "The Fated Breath" and "Clamor Beneath". How did you guys hook up?
Chris: It's always been something we've wanted to do for years. His vocals in Napalm Death have always had a big influence on us. Especially back in the Social Infestation days. We approached Barney through a mutual friend (Albert Mudrian at Decibel) and he was very receptive to the idea. So, we made the arrangements and it actually happened. He was a real pleasure to work with. We are quite honored to have his contribution.
Pitchfork: And, how did you decide on the Necrophobic cover? It's an interesting choice. There's obviously the connection to the apocalyptic themes. Is it also supposed to be a gateway to Swedish death metal for fans of yourse who aren't familiar with that realm?
Chris: Necrophobic, to me at least, are one of the greats from the Swedish black/death scene. For some stupid reason, more people over on this side of the Atlantic have never heard of them which is quite a shame. You're right with the theme of the song "Into Armageddon". It fits perfectly with the message we've conveyed through our own lyrics. But ultimately, we really wanted to pay homage to one of the greats. A band, and a scene, that has obviously influenced us more than just about any other. That song is just amazing, almost perfect. We had talked about covering it, just to cover it, but when we discussed it we decided to put it on the album because it just fit right.
Pitchfork: You guys have a blackened death/sludge sound. There are a number of extended, majestic instrumental sections. Who are your inspirations? I know that's a boring question, but it isn't as easy to tease out of your sound as it is in more derivative crews...
Chris: Thanks for the compliment! I guess the main thing is that we're big fans of dynamics and the almighty riff. One influence that brings that out of us more than any other band is Neurosis. They are masters at what they do. Souls at Zero and Through Silver in Blood are two of my all-time favorite albums. They play with such emotion, it is next to impossible not to feel something. That is what we try to do with our music, make people feel something and that majestic sound and dynamics are really what does that.
Pitchfork: You're from Atlanta. As are Mastodon, and then Baroness and Kylesa are from Savannah. What is it about that state and epic sludge?
Chris: I'm not really sure. Maybe it's the heat and humidity that brings it out of us.
Pitchfork: Finally, you've been out on tour. Are there more dates this summer? Any of the clubs from this recent outing have PBR on tap?
Chris: Right now we don't have any definitive plans for this summer. Probably some regional stuff, and some local shows. We do have plans for this fall in October. I can't go into details right now, but suffice it to say it's going to be big. With gas prices the way they are right now-- and I've recently started a new job-- we have to be really smart about the tours we go on. They have to be worth it, we can't afford it otherwise. We are writing some more material at the moment for a possible release sometime before the end of the year. As far as the PBR question: Yes, unfortunately, most places do have PBR on tap. See, I'm the only one in the band that will waste money buying good beer on tour. I hate PBR and most all American lagers. Give me a Belgian ale any day of the week and I'll be a happy guy. I don't see how the other guys drink some of that shitty beer, but they do, so oh well. I would just as soon not drink. Most of the time a club will at least have Guinness that I'll drink, but at home its Chimay, Piraat, Gulden Drak, or maybe a Le Chouffe. I'm a beer snob I guess-- eliter than thou...
You can listen to another Folie track, "Purification of Ignorance", at the band's MySpace. The album's out 6/24 on Prosthetic.
New York grindcore trio Alleged Satanic Ritual Abuse (or, ASRA) are releasing The Way Of All Flesh July 8 on Black Box Recordings, the label run by Mike Hill, who fronts Tombs (who, incidentally, just signed to Relapse). The 11-track collection clocks in at a slim, not too slim 22 minutes. This is grindcore, but it can get expansive at times, mixing in old-school death accents (they get Assück and Brutal Truth comparisons, but worship Morbid Angel) with a tendency towards power violence. If you're new to the band and want to start slowly, I also recommend This Comp Kills Fascists, Volume 1, a collection curated by Scott Hull and out on Relapse. See here. Like ASRA's full-length, it's out on July 8. I spoke with the founding members, vocalist/guitarist Montgomery Hukill and vocalist/drummer Andrew Hernandez via email.
Pitchfork: How'd you come up with the name?
Montgomery Hukill: Andrew was reading a book about cannibalism when he came across cases involving satanic ritual abuse. During the 1980s, the Christian right was getting up in arms about supposed pedophilic sex rings and ritualistic killings. People were being arrested and convicted of alleged satanic ritual abuse: Victims testifying about memories planted in their heads by psychologists. Weird shit. It just so happens that the actual case Andrew read about occurred in my hometown, Bakersfield, Calif. So, that was the clincher for me.
Andrew Hernandez: Yeah, seeing as Monty was from Bako and suffered some satanic abuse I thought that maybe he'd want to challenge his past with some good old country-fried grindcore.
Pitchfork: People often bitch about the New York metal scene. I've spoken with a few area bands who say there isn't much to speak of here. I disagree, but thoughts? Who do you consider local allies?
Montgomery Hukill: There is certainly a lot of garbage in the city. I can't really speak to the "metal scene" since I am more often trying to avoid the general public rather than find a good local band. Generally, there's a lot going on here and most people don't give a shit. They would probably rather just listen to their iPods on the train and hope that nobody tries touching them. There are a few local bands, though, that we're into and enjoy playing shows with-- Tombs, Defeatist, Leader, and the Communion. Most often we just try getting decent bands to play here, try to promote the shows, and hope that a few more people show up other than our handful of friends.
Andrew Hernandez: NYC is tough. The scene is actually a "seen" and it's just popularity and pomp and as far as underground is concerned it's very fractured and hard to gather as a whole.
People won't necessarily go see Band A if it's not within a comfortable travel zone. Hell, when I first moved here I would travel by train anywhere for a show; these days I am a lot more hesitant. Daily commuting can knock the wind out of your traveling sails. As far as local music is concerned I definitely give hefty nods to Tombs, Defeatist, the Communion, and Wetnurse. Deathcycle and Celebrity Murders are another faction that is gong on here, oh and Deathmold and Attake (yet another group with totally different "fans").
Pitchfork: It's obviously difficult to make out the lyrics. Can you maybe discuss some of the content? Maybe on "Payload" or "Human Construct" or "80 Year Suicide". As many as you have the energy for, really. I'm curious to know the storylines/narratives.
Montgomery Hukill: Most of the lyrical content for The Way of All Flesh was written by our first singer, JT. Andrew wrote the words to a couple songs and when Harris joined the band there were only two or three that needed lyrics. JT wrote "Payload" which is about the Rwandan genocide-- a description of what occurred there, but more specifically, the act of knowingly infecting someone with HIV/AIDS by means of rape. Andrew wrote "Human Construct", which is a critique of organized religion. Harris wrote "Enclosed Enemy" which is about schizophrenia, I think.
Pitchfork: It's interesting to me that the band name and the title of the album seem to be a bit at odds with song titles like "Burning Proletariat" or "Those in Power". It's like this religious or anti-religious tone, abuse in the name of "religion," but then songs that sound more political. Can you discuss?
Montgomery Hukill: I don't think of the band name as addressing abuse in the name of religion; rather, it is abuse (or misuse) of the legal system on the part of fundamentalist Christians. Ironically, I suppose, the name of the album does come from the Bible. Genesis 6:12. "And God, looking on the earth, saw that it was evil: for the way of all flesh had become evil on the earth." There is no central political theme or concept to the album...and we are certainly not catering to the "satanic" crowd. A lot of JT's lyrics were ecological/environmental. If there were to be any central theme, I guess it would be man's effect on the world, and on himself. Pretty much your typical grindcore fodder.
Andrew Hernandez: The thing that I like about this band is that we are not strict. We do not set out to be one sole thing-- we are not an anarcho-crust band, we are not a political grind band, we are not a death metal band, we shy away from silly fantasy horror/murder clichés and when we do address politics it's more from a humanitarian stand point than a message from a soap box.
"Burning Proleteriat" is actually based off of the Fritz Lang silent film Metropolis. It is my favorite movie ever and I think the story is pretty much a simple tale in which the few (the rich) rule over the many (the proletariats). Remember in the Dead Kennedys song "Riot", how Jello Biafra sings the phrase, "Tomorrow you're homeless, tonight it's a blast"? That is what Fritz Lang depicted in Metropolis when the proletariats are convinced to rage towards the Babel tower and neglect the care of their children ("...but their leader has been replaced... hear the mother's cry, "WHY" what have we done this time?!?!"). We have most likely heard a story one way or another, but for a greater effect the importance lies in how it's told.
Pitchfork: Scott Hull mastered the record. How did you guys contact him? You're also on his This Comp Kills Fascists, Vol. 1. Have you developed some sort of working relationship/friendship?
Montgomery Hukill: The first time we came into contact with Scott was when Pig Destroyer played in Brooklyn while they were on tour promoting Phantom Limb. Apparently, he was into the band because he asked us to be on that [aforementioned] grindcore/powerviolence comp he was doing on Relapse. We were already planning to record late that summer, before Mike Hill from Black Box Recordings even offered to put our record out. I think Scott did some mastering for Mike's old band, Anodyne, so once we had everything together for the initial mixes Mike sent everything over to Scott. We're stoked on the way everything worked out with the full length and we could not be happier that we're on a comp with the likes of Insect Warfare, Kill the Client, Shitstorm, Magrudergrind. And, most importantly, Agents of Satan.
Andrew Hernandez: Yeah, I don't know, we played with Pig Destroyer once. I guess Scott saw us and liked us or maybe we have really cool friends who talk us up and we actually suck and he hates us, but I'm just stoked to be on a comp with Agents of Satan...the drummer actually wanted to beat me up at this Kalmex and the Riff Merchants show in San Francisco way back and then the Kalmex/Pluto guys asked if I wanted to get jumped into their crew, Doomryders (not that band, we're talking 2000 here!). That's a totally different story though.
Pitchfork: I've seen you guys compared to Brutal Truth. And you mention Obituary and Morbid Angel among others, as inspiration/influence. You're also into classic grind. What are you listening to/digging these days?
Montgomery Hukill: I assume you mean newer music. For me, personally, not all that much. Since the listing of bands came out for This Comp Kills Fascists, I've been obsessed with Wasteoid. That band is fucking awesome. And, honestly, most of the current bands I've been listening to are on that comp. Insect Warfare is the best thing since sliced bread (or at least since From Enslavement to Obliteration), although they're now defunct. Shitstorm is ridiculous. We played with Chainsaw to the Face in Philadelphia recently who were fucking sick. The new Endless Blockade is exceptional. Iron Lung? Hatred Surge? Dunno. For the last week or so I've just been listening to Harris go apeshit over Australian grind. Other than that, yeah, Cause of Death and Altars of Madness remain staples in the diet. Death by Manipulation?
Andrew Hernandez: Brutal Truth...hmm, have you ever seen that drummer live? Obituary are the ultimate mosh band. Morbid Angel are gods, unattainable, the Led Zeppelin of Death Metal. Seriously, all of their albums are good! That's crazy as hell! I've been listening to a lot of T. Rex, Dim Mak, Jesu, Anaal Nathrakh, and whatever weird progressive stuff Hunter (Leader bassist) turns me on to. Oh yeah, the new Meshuggah is their best album yet, it blows my f'n mind bro.
Pitchfork: Right now black metal-- especially the early 90s Norwegian stuff-- has become pretty hip via Vice and other non-metal outlets. And with bands like Nile and Behemoth, death metal has become a higher profile genre. Grindcore hasn't had that sort of crossover. Well, there's Pig Destroyer, of course, but they're almost a sorta post-grindcore. Why do you think it's remained a more underground branch of the extreme metal tree?
Montgomery Hukill: Perhaps those genres have become more homogenized. But grindcore has, too, don't get me wrong. I can hardly stand any recent Napalm Death release. I dunno. I can't think of any current death metal band that is interesting... And, honestly, early 90s or not, I think black metal is pretty much for girls. I'm sure the "true" fans of both back metal and death metal have their respective complaints. In terms of grindcore, there's probably only a certain percentage of the population with such a short attention span. Hopefully it'll never catch on.
Andrew Hernandez: I really doubt grind will ever take off like BM did. I'd like to see someone try and commercialize grind. Pig Destroyer are the most popular grind band in America, I think that's a given, but I don't even know if they are grind. What in the hell is grind anyways? I heard that Godflesh used to be considered grind! And Bolt Thrower. That's cool. (P.S. Bethlehem is the best black metal band ever and Leviathan are awesome.)
Pitchfork: Finally, what are your plans for the next couple of months? Tour... any new songs in the works? I know it's early to ask, but what the hell.
Montgomery Hukill: Yeah, we'll be getting ready for the tour with Gridlink this summer. We have some new material that will be recorded in late August. Some of which will (hopefully) go on a three-way split we're planning with Defeatist and Triac. The rest of which will go on another split 7" or something.
Andrew Hernandez: Yup, I hope we do a split 7" with our grinding death brothers from Virginia, Three Faces Of Eve... They are awesome, seriously, and Triac are gnarly too. Ever heard of Nadir? They pretty much inherit the Discordance Axis throne. I'd like to do a battle 7" with them so we can at least give up a good fight before being brutalized. The thing I look forward to most is covering this song by the Who that I've been wanting to cover since the start of this band. That shit is going to rule!
I decided not to ask which Who song. Surprises are good. Hear more here.
Longstanding Finnish shape-shifters Circle probably don't need an introduction, but just in case: Centered by founding member Jussi Lehtisalo, the highly prolific band's been cycling through psychedelia, art-punk, krautrock, atmospherics, and metal (among other things) since 1991. I first caught up with Lehtisalo around the release of 2007's Katapult (No Quarter), but then we played tag for a while. Just in time for new of a new record to emerge, as well as a chance to look back at some of the band's output to date. Jussi did play me a new song, "Sacrifice," but thought it was too early for me to post it. I will say this: Holy Iron Maiden. In the meantime, here's a sampling of older material: "Neverending Dinner" from 2006's Panic, "Rautakäärme" from 2005's Tulikoira, and "Torpedo Star Throne" from the aforementioned Katapult.
Pitchfork: When you formed the band all those years ago, how'd you come up with the name "Circle"? What did it mean to you then? Now?
Jussi Lehtisalo: Our early drummer Juha Ahtiainen came up with the name. Maybe there was some influence from the ingenious English band Loop, who quit about that time. In the beginning the name seemed to symbolize our strong inner circle of friends or our cyclical sense of time. We used to go on [stage] to this phrase: "The world is changing, and you are changing with it!" We don't pronounce the name as in English, but in Finnish way: SIRKLE ("CI" like in "citadel"; very hard "R"; "CLE" like in "clever"). This associates to a familiar tool in the woodworking industry, SIRKKELI (circular saw in English). We favor a stingy, saw-like sound that cuts through stale air and rasps the ears of the music elite and rock cops.
Nowadays Circle means existence, friendship, and light to me. I have identified myself strongly through Circle. The art that we are making is my reality, and the fact that I am sitting here at my computer answering questions, is just illusion after all...
Pitchfork: Across records, you have an extremely varied sound. How did you approach Sunrise vs Forest vs Katapult? I'm just choosing those randomly, but they're three favorites.
Jussi: We produce and record our albums mainly by ourselves. Sometimes we use professional studio facilities for recording and mixing but we prefer not to have producers from the outside. Alotus is an exception, that was produced by Hans-Joachim Irmler from Faust. He has-- among other things-- produced my favorite album, Faust's Ravvivando. We didn't have to think twice when Joachim offered his help.
Circle's Sunrise is among the first albums on which I took over the production in an almost dictator-like manner. I did the final mix by myself, [creating] an intensive trance more than thinking about musicality, harmony, or balance.
Forest was based on live, in-studio recordings. We recorded and mixed it together with Aki Peltonen, who has been our link to the professional studio world for about 10 years.
Katapult was recorded at summer cabin and was engineered by our sound guy Tuomas Laurila, who is also part of our live line-up. When doing the final mix, we didn't pay much attention to single tracks' sounds but tried to be as daring as possible concerning the balance between different instruments. Later we noticed that we could have been even a thousand times more barefaced.
We believe in the autonomy of art, and therefore we attempt to take over the whole process as thoroughly as possible. Artists don't need to be subcontractors, who become "produced" into relevant beings by some third-party machinery. We are glad to get lost in the woods independently-- and sometimes we even rove our way back.
Pitchfork: Your album titles are usually one word... something basic... whereas the song titles are more elaborate. What's the idea behind this?
Jussi: Usually we make up the names of our songs and albums in a great hurry-- for example when the deadline of the album cover art is hanging upon us. It's true that our album titles are one-worded without exception and that has become a tradition for us. It is said that descriptive things in the European culture are preserving, rebeginning. and demolishing. Sometimes it feels that this is valid in Circle, too. We have created something uplifting and relevant and then, at the last moments, we demolish it by being irrelevant or incoherent somehow
Pitchfork: Circle are extremely prolific. How do you know when it's time to release another album? And how do you group together the material-- are you writing all the time? Coming up with parts during jams/practice?
Jussi: Many people think that we are too productive, but we hope to make music even more actively in the future. Practically speaking, we don't compose or rehearse. We gather at some place occasionally and start recording "new" material. We could compare our activities to some visual artist, who can make tens of paintings in a year, many unfinished. Circle live inside the four walls in a typical Western way-- and we don't move that much either-- but in our art and inspiration we travel over the mountains and across the seas and constantly discover new continents. It's hard to say if our music is that high-class artistically, but in our eyes we have have a dazzling flame and inside us beats a lustful heart.
Pitchfork: I've made a couple of trips to Norway for music festivals and things. Somehow this put me in contact with Export Finland (or FI, or something), who sent me a copy of Miljard. First, what's the story behind that album? It's more elaborately packaged than some of your others. And a double record. Secondly, it's interesting the way music/culture is presented and supported differently in Europe and Scandinavia than it is here. I was talking to Enslaved, who had their first U.S. tour paid for by the government. How does government support and grants help/hinder experimental music, do you think?
Jussi: Miljard was recorded at summer cabin during sessions that took several days. At the same time we were shooting [fictional] documentary movie named Ympyrä: Saturnus Reality, in which Circle are acting themselves. Miljard was put together from several hours of raw material that was overdubbed and post-produced by Mika Rättö and Tuomas Laurila. I think the album is a great study of the moment that precedes the moment when some thing or some act becomes relevant. The steed is never allowed to gallop and the inconvenient overtime in a hockey match is not finished by the well-deserved goal. I think the cover art of Miljard has succeeded excellently-- for instance, the two blank pages in the booklet are a decent evidence of our progressiveness.
As far as I know, in Finland the culture is strongly and widely supported by the state and many private cultural institutions. We have had some allowance for our tours, but art should be free from authorities who attempt to commercialize ardent feelings. Though it is relatively hard these days to draw the line between these things, I still think I can preserve a small remnant of idealism.
Pitchfork: With which other Finnish bands do you feel aligned? I know the country has a varied musical palette...thinking Lau Nau through Korpiklaani. Speaking of which, I interviewed Korpiklaani once, and they spoke about the importance of traditional Finnish music. What influences are you pulling from?
Jussi: We don't feel part of any scene, except nowadays of course there's NWOFHM! We have to be part of that because Circle have launched this brain wave. Music is communication with the world, so I am inescapably influenced by the musical output of the people who are my friends or intimates. The musicians of Circle have roles in bands like Pharaoh Overlord, Plain Ride, Aavikko, Kuusumun Profeetta, Steel Mammoth, Rättö ja Lehtisalo. In the early 1990s, when I was younger and identified myself through other people and bands, my so-called fellow tribesmen were Keuhkot, Radiopuhelimet, the Sweetheart, Deep Turtle, and so on.
We take a lot of influence from around us, but my biggest influence is Led Zeppelin. I saw Judas Priest when I was a little kid in the year 1986 and the concert was terrific. As far as I know, we all like Judas Priest-- at least some bit-- but we are not that much influenced by them. Our live outfit in the past few years has been stud-oriented but that is maybe the biggest thing in common. I think that the conventional 1970-80s hard rock has had some effect on us though. We are unskilled heavy musicians but sometimes we are forced to do our best. On the other hand, how could an artist tell who has influenced him or who has not?
Pitchfork: You're known for your live show. How much preparation goes into the more theatrical aspect of the set-up?
Jussi: We aspire to be impulsive and excited. We rock like it's the last day on earth, and imagine being the Led Zeppelin of the 21st century. The little side performances that occur during the set, we call rituals. They have a surprisingly high importance. When successful, the rituals tune us and the audience into a fervent mood and promote musical enjoyment. It creates a sense of uniqueness and makes the performance more elevated. We are going to increase the theatrical/ritualistic side in our performances, because we are now in a good age for fooling around like that. This should also add some confusion, indignation, and shame to our shows.
Pitchfork: You're currently between releases. What are you working on?
Jussi: We have now recorded and mixed our breakthrough album with a working title Gothic Glamrock Pajama Party. It is clearly aimed at the American market. The lead vocalist this time is our greatly honored Bruce Duff from Jesters of Destiny. At the moment our expedition has turned towards the noisiness of the early-1990s Circle, the feedback and all kinds of uncontrollable racket. Most likely we are going to offset the lack of content by making a lot of noise for the next couple of years.