The world needs yet another book about black metal as much as Varg Vikernes needs to buy another gunrack, right? Well, Dayal Patterson doesn’t agree (about the book part, at any rate). A regular writer and photographer to Metal Hammer (as well as an occasional contributor to Record Collector and The Quietus), Dayal has penned Black Metal: Evolution Of The Cult, a mammoth 600+ page book on “the progress of the genre, from its infancy in the early eighties through to its resurrection in the nineties and onwards to the fascinating scene we see today” (cheers, for that, PR blurb). Blimey.
With all that in mind, we gave Dayal a buzz to ask him our usual mix of awkward, annoying, and ever-so-slightly insightful questions about his book, the musicians he interviewed in order to write it, and just why British black metal bands look so silly in corpse paint.
So Dayal, does the world really need another book about black metal? Isn’t it – pound for pound – the most over-analysed metal subgenre going?
In my opinion the world really did need a book that finally covered the subject of black metal in the manner it deserved, and without wanting to sound hugely conceited I hope (and believe) this is that book. You’re certainly right that a lot of film makers and writers have covered the scene but it has always tended to be fairly selective in regards to the groups/scenes featured and so most have ended up (in my opinion) being somewhat distorted accounts of what is a pretty complicated scene. There are of course some excellent works on particular specifics of the genre’s history (Tom G. Warrior’s book on Hellhammer for example) but there weren’t any that tracked the history and development of the movement as a whole from the eighties until today comprehensively and accurately through the voices of the main protagonists involved.
Conversely, what is it about black metal do you think that makes people want to delve into it and analyse it?
I think that black metal is one of the most fascinating and varied forms of metal out there and almost certainly the most varied. It encapsulates both the highest and lowest musical expressions, touching upon the most enlightened intellectual and spiritual territories as well as the most base and primal. In fact, the problem is that people often want to portray it as having a single meaning, where in fact it has almost endless meanings. It covers a huge amount of ground musically, ideologically, religiously, politically, lyrically and aesthetically, and that’s partly what this book is about, looking at the various directions the genre has moved in, and the incredible characters involved. That’s also an obvious source of interest too, the often colourful lives and ideas of the musicians in question.
Watch Until The Light Takes Us, which is kind of what Dayal is talking about when it comes to selective perspectives:
What was your modus operandi for researching and writing the book?
I was already in contact with some of the participants but obviously there were also plenty who were only vague acquaintances or even complete strangers, so finding and arranging interviews with everyone was a sizeable challenge in itself, with some interviewees being rather more difficult to track down than others. The other challenge was making sure there was enough detail and lengthy enough interviews that there would be plenty of new information even for those (like myself) who had been reading about the genre for a couple of decades, while also looking at as many of the pivotal bands as possible. Thankfully the publisher were persuaded to make the final word count fairly monstrous so all that was left was to try and organise it all into a flowing story.
Who was the most difficult person to interview, and why? And who was the most surprising interviewee, and why?
That’s a tricky question. For sure some of the people I interviewed could be described as “difficult” people – Infernus of Gorgoroth, Niklas [Kvarforth] of Shining – but that is a good thing I think, at least in terms of interviews. For me a difficult interviewee is someone who doesn’t open up and only gives one sentence answers, not someone who offers very intense or challenging conversation – that’s actually something I welcome because it’s interesting to read. And that’s just as well given that there are members of bands such as Venom, Celtic Frost, Darkthrone, Gorgoroth/God Seed, Marduk, Mütiilation, VON and Mayhem involved. The most difficult thing was often making the interviews happen: Mysticum for example, it took about a year and a half (during which time they reformed) to get all three of them locked down into an interview. In terms of surprises, I think the only thing that was a surprise was how helpful some of the participants were – members of bands such as Blasphemy, Cradle of Filth, Ulver, (and again Gorgoroth and Mayhem) who perhaps have a reputation for being, shall we say… awkward proved extremely accommodating and helpful.
How long did you work on the book? What prompted you to start it in
the first place?
I began work on it in 2009 and worked on it until this year. The driving factor for me was simply that I felt it needed to be written – that was really the only motivation and to be honest I waited for some years for someone else to do the job but nothing appeared. Had I known how much it would cost financially, mentally and in terms of time, I might have reconsidered of course!
How have you tackled the extreme politics of black metal in your book?
Unflinchingly, ha ha! To try and deny the extreme politics that have surfaced in black metal’s history would be as ridiculous as trying to deny the criminal aspects – it’s by no means a key component of the genre but it is a reoccurring one. There is a pretty lengthy account of the birth of the right wing black metal scene (the so-called National Socialist Black Metal) that appeared primarily in Eastern Europe following initial flirtations by Scandinavian bands. Rob Darken of Graveland and Infernum was an interviewee and was a vital witness to this scene and all of the drama that took place within it. That said, I have made very sure to present both sides of this particular sword and shown that many black metal bands have questioned whether race politics are compatible with both black metal and elitism/Satanism.
Watch Noisey’s documentary about bedroom black metal:
Similarly, what’s your take on the position that black metal’s gone hipster?
The black metal scene is ever-expanding and its audience is naturally becoming ever more varied. Fair to say I’m not a huge fan of hipster culture (although I guess it’s a bit debatable as to what that would entail), but I guess if people genuinely appreciate the music and art and are interested in what lies behind it then that’s valid. To be honest, the hipster thing is just one of a long line of “intrusions” into black metal’s once-closed doors and it’s a bit late to be worried at this point – I remember our horror when kids in Coal Chamber shirts turned up to Emperor gigs in the late nineties and frankly hipsters are probably less awful than nu-metal fans in this context.
Of course you occasionally find people who proudly declare that they only listen to newer ‘post black metal’ bands or stuff from the current USBM scene or whatever else fits in with their blinkered view of the world, and refuse to acknowledge the work of the first or second wave masters. That’s of course pretty ridiculous but maybe this book will be of some use in that sense – after all, if just one person discovers Master’s Hammer, Beherit, Gehenna or Manes thanks to Evolution Of The Cult my work will have been worth it (etc etc…)
Does the micro-genre-ification (you know what I mean) of black metal effectively mean that the term itself is meaningless these days?
No, I don’t think so. There is still something that links Bathory to Mayhem to Marduk to Windir to Blacklodge to Wolves In The Throne Room and so on, even if those bands are radically different in their forms of expression, ideologies and so on. Black metal is largely about tapping into something greater than the human, than yourself, that’s what perhaps separates it from most other metal subgenres. I think the many strands that the genre manifests (folk, industrial, progressive, depressive etc) is fascinating and suggests a certain immortality to the core of what it’s all about. I hope by the end of the 600 pages the reader has a more rounded idea of what that core might be.
Why do British bands look like tits if they put on corpsepaint, but Norwegian bands look silly without it?
Have you seen some of Immortal’s old promo photos?
Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult isn’t out until November, but you can pre-order it now if our interview with Dayal has piqued your interest. If you want to know more about the book, why not toddle on over to its official website?