BLACK METAL: BEYOND THE DARKNESS Q&A PART 1

‘Black Metal: Beyond The Darkness’ is the new book from London’s Black Dog Publishing, the company who specialise in “beautifully illustrated books that represent a fresh, eclectic take on contemporary culture”. As such, the tome promises to be more than your average account of black metal, and even features a chapter written by Zero Tolerance’s editor Nathan T. Birk. ZT caught up with some of the people behind this book, to find out what lies beyond the darkness. First up, editor Tom Howells of Black Dog Publishing.

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ZT:Where did the idea for this book come from? 

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TH: Really, it grew out of the fact that for a movement which is so aesthetically and stylistically defined, and which has had so many important stages of development, there was pretty much nothing written in this form which didn’t either go down the slightly reductive true-crime/Norwegian Second Wave route (not to say Lords of Chaos doesn’t still have currency but it very much portrays a time and a tone in black metal which we’re well past now and it’s pretty frustrating how much people still think of these relatively nascent few years as still being the genre’s absolutely key period; something which is still purported by Until the Light Takes us and other documents like that); were really highfalutin and abstracted like Hideous Gnosis: or more the strictly visual or retrospective approaches of Peter Beste’s photo book (which is still amazing) or the Metalion/Slayer zine compendium which Bazillion Points put out awhile back.

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So, we thought it’d be cool to put something together which in part moved in from these stringent approaches—hence the ‘Beyond the Darkness’ subtitle—and drew together lots of the strands of what encompasses black metal and it’s orbiting themes and issues, by way of essays, testimonials, interviews, archival photography etc.. In terms of pulling the book together visually, we were lucky to find Una Hamilton Helle, who provided the book’s aesthetic identity through her awesome photography and the imagery for the cover, all of which is think is pretty amazing.

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ZT: Can you tell us what aspects of black metal the essays examine?

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TH: The topics covered in detail in the book include BM’s nascent scenes outside of Scandinavia (but especially southern and eastern Europe); USBM and what that entails by way of the prefixed reprint of Brandon Stosuy’s Believer piece from a few years back; Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s conception of transcendentalism and BM; BM’s relationship to American writing; the selling and distribution of black metal through distros and record shops; BM’s relationship to modern fine art; and an analysis of the visual aesthetics of black metal amongst others.

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There’s a wealth more that BM is linked to thematically (the occult, the cosmos, and masculinity/sexuality to name a few) and we never took these as a comprehensive coverall, but I think the topics chosen give a fascinating left-field take on the genre, whilst still never losing the context of the aura and feel of the music itself. This is given extra weight through the inclusion of zines and zine writers, designers and artwork included. Black metal is a really multi-faceted style and I think the book reflects this.

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ZT: Considering that there are a multitude of extreme metal books on the market, what does Beyond the Darkness bring to the table that’s different? Given the book’s exploration of the recent “pan-academic focus” on black metal, how does Beyond the Darkness differ from books like 2010’s Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Symposium I?

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TH: Nicola Masciandaro, who organised the Black Metal Theory Symposium which the Hideous Gnosis book was a result of, came to the subject with an approach that’s a lot more pointedly theoretical than ours was. And I think that whilst Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness looks at elements such as art, literature, personal philosophy on the part of the musicians involved and wider ranging, more encompassing theory applied to the genre as whole, I think it’s these elements placed alongside more conventional overviews of the less-looked-at elements of BM’s development is what makes the book interesting.

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I think it’s cool that the trajectory of the book takes you from the inception and influence of groups like Rotting Christ and Graveland, through some contentious theory, aspects of DIY distribution, logo and record cover design, considered personal accounts of being in the middle of the formative years as they were happening, referential sculpture and photography, the visual influence of wolves and forests on BM et al…. Inevitably, Varg and Mayhem and all that stuff is talked about, but it’s far from the focus of the book and, largely, it’s really just to give context. Which makes the book different from most popular documentation of black metal straight away, even before the multitude of other things looked at.

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ZT: Tell us a bit about the ‘qualifications’ of those involved – are the contributors people who respect and appreciate the genre, are they musicians or followers of the genre? On what criteria were the contributors selected?

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TH: It’s a mix of all of these. The people we asked to provide essays for the book are all excellent journalists and writers who are heavily knowledgeable of and involved in the BM scene, all coming from very recognizably different angles. Nathan Birk and Brandon Stosuy are both partly responsible in their own ways for expanding both underground and popular recognition of BM stateside and in Europe.

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A controversial piece like Hunter’s was included because I really think that, derided as it is in some spheres, is really interesting as a progressive and contentious take on what BM really does/could encapsulate, artistically. Even if people hate it, it’s great to think that some individuals are so intellectually involved with the style that they can draw writing and ideas from it like this. Which isn’t something you get with, say, grind or thrash.

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ZT: Did you have any criteria for the bands that were selected for the book (other than those that play black metal)?

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TH: Not so much! The bands covered in the essays were chosen by the writers for their relevance to the subject matter (for instance, we were never going to be able to include something on the theatrics of live BM without mentioning Gorgoroth or those early Darkthrone shows). We did want to cover bands who are respected and hold a legitimate artistic presence in the scene, but if this sounds elitist (what genre is more so though, really? It’s not like I don’t know that a lot of ‘true kvlt’ types would dismiss the book straight off!) it’s reflected in the groups chosen as a focus by the authors.

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In terms of the testimonials, it came down to including people who we thought would have something interesting to say. Not all of the major scene players—however you might define that—are necessarily very vocal about their work. Or, in the case of Wrest or Varg, say, really warrant interviewing for whatever reasons. On the other hand, the testimonials in the book provided by Neil ‘Imperial’ Jameson, and Krystoffer and Erik from Ulver, for instance, are really fascinating and both very philosophical in different ways. Which sit differently to those by Christophe Szpajdel and Justin Stubbs, etc , which are more straightforward and autobiographical.

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Part 2 can be read HERE

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