Fuck you, purists: Drew Daniel of Matmos is releasing an electronic black metal covers album

Drew Daniel, The Soft Pink Truth
Photo by M.C. Schmidt

We knew electronic duo Matmos had a punk streak when we saw them rock the fuck out of a Buzzcocks cover on their last tour. But we weren’t expecting this: Drew Daniel, the younger, punkier half of Matmos, is releasing an entire album of black metal covers. And he’s doing it mostly with electronics. And he’s doing under the name of his weirdo house music alter ego, The Soft Pink Truth. And he’s putting it out on pink vinyl.

So basically, he’s making a black metal album specifically designed to piss off black metal fans, which…since the whole point of being a black metal is to be pissed off at pretty much everything…might make Why Do the Heathen Rage? the most black metal of all time.

The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?: Electronic Profanations of Black Metal Classics is due out June 17th on the greatest label in the history of everything, Thrill Jockey. It will feature guest vocals by such totally non-metal singers as Antony of Antony & the Johnsons and Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak and promises, according to the press release, to transform its source material from such corpse-painted doom mongers as Mayhem, Venom, Darkthrone and Hellhammer into “hyperactive dance-floor bangers.”

We are so excited to hear the whole thing we can hardly stand it. Here’s a taste: a cover of Venom’s genre-defining classic, “Black Metal.”

Side note: Although Daniel is apparently a for-reals fan of the black stuff, he’s also gay and therefore has some issues with the genre’s more extreme racist/homophobic/white-supremacist elements. So he explained the whole concept behind the album in part by noting, “Just as blasphemy both affirms and assaults the sacred powers it invokes and inverts, so too this record celebrates black metal and offers queer critique / mockery / profanation of its ideological morass in equal measure.” And in case that’s all a little too intellectual for you to process, he also makes his point by ending Why Do the Heathen Rage? with a cover of “Grim and Frostbitten Gay Bar” by our other favorite black metal piss take, Impaled Northern Moonforest.

If you want to pre-order one of the pink vinyl copies of Why Do the Heathen Rage?, and watch a trailer video, hit up the Thrill Jockey online store.

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Weird of the Day: Gnaw Their Tongues, “Destroying Is Creating”

 

Gnaw Their Tongues

Sometimes our readers remind me of my cat. They show up on my doorstep with the remnants of something gross and decaying in their jaws, but they do it as a love offering. I’m pretty sure it was in that spirit that reader XIC left a link to the Gnaw Their Tongues video below on our Submit a Band page.

Gnaw Their Tongues is a black metal/drone/noise project created by a guy named Mories who describes himself on his Bandcamp page as a “demon channeler.” After listening to “Destroying Is Creating” and a few other tracks, we think he may be telling the truth.

If you feel like diving deeper into Mories’ pit of despair, check out his website.

Weird of the Day: Fadades, “la colère de Ramsès”

Fadades

Our new favorite weird artiste from France (and if you read this blog on the regular, you know there’s some stiff competition) is a one-man black metal act called Fadades. Fadades seems to exist in some crazy-town sweet spot midway between the conspiracy-theorist bedroom metal of Skull and Bones and the lo-fi black metal piss-take of Impaled Northern Moonforest.  It’s a place with no drums but plenty of Edward Scissorhands costume accessories. And green screens. Lots of green screens.

Speculation runs rampant over whether this guy is serious or just punking the black metal community. Since his only official online presence is a YouTube channel and a MySpace page in French (which we’re pretty sure is indecipherable even to French people), it’s hard to say. But in the end, who cares? No matter what his intentions are, the results are amazing.

Many thanks to reader Lou for introducing us to this guy, after a day when we could use a good laugh.

Hear a new track from Mayhem: “Psywar”

Mayhem

Here’s a factoid that’s gonna make some of you feel really fucking old: It’s been 30 years since Norwegian black metal legends Mayhem slouched out of the frozen woods of Norway and into our cold, black hearts. 30 years! And they said it wouldn’t last. Especially after the lead singer committed suicide and the guitarist got murdered. But when you basically invented the entire black metal genre, murder and suicide kinda go with the scenery.

Anyway, to celebrate 30 years of making the world a darker, more depressing place, the remnants of Mayhem are releasing their first new music this year since 2007’s Ordo ad Chao. The new album’s gonna be called Esoteric Warfare and you can hear the first single, “Psywar,” in a YouTube video below. Fortunately, it’s a lyric video, because otherwise there would be no way to figure out what the hell Attila is saying.

Heavy as fuck, am I right? My altered persona definitely just got triggered. Now pardon me while I go break stuff.

OK, I’m back to let you know that “Psywar” will be released as a single on Season of Mist on April 25th (April 29th here in America, because we suck). It’ll be on limited-edition vinyl in different colors with different artwork, all of which you can pre-order here. Looks like the red and grey vinyl are already sold out but the black is still available, because even in black metal circles, colored vinyl is still cooler than black.

Esoteric Warfare drops May 23rd (May 27th in the U.S.). It’ll feature the surviving “classic” Mayhem lineup of Necrobutcher on bass, Hellhammer on drums and Attila Csihar on vocals, with the new addition of Teloch standing in for the late, great Euronymous on guitar. Will it live up to the legend? Probably not, but who cares? As long as it means they’re bringing their severed pig heads to a theater near us soon, we’ll take it.

Stalaggh/Gulaggh

Stalaggh

I gotta say, when it comes to dark, nihilistic bands on this blog, I was pretty sure we bottomed out with Mayhem and GG Allin & the Murder Junkies. Turns out I was wrong. Meet Gulaggh (or, if you prefer, :GULAGGH:), the band formerly known as Stalaggh, and prepare to embrace their motto, “Existence is futile.”

Stalaggh came into its futile existence around 2000, when members of the Dutch and Belgian black metal and ambient music scenes came together for the express purpose of making an album that would fill their listeners with despair. To help achieve that goal, they dispensed with the usual growling black metal singers and instead brought in mental patients. Apparently one of the non-crazy (relatively speaking) members of the band works in an insane asylum and was able to get permission to work with some of the patients, under the guise of it being primal scream therapy. Allegedly, among the many “vocalists” the band has worked with in this way is a guy who was institutionalized for killing his mother by stabbing her 30 times.

Stalaggh released three albums between 2002 and 2007: Projekt Nihil, Projekt Terror and their most notorious effort, Projekt Misanthropia If you Google Stalaggh, one of the first results is an article about Projekt Misanthropia called, “Is This The Worst Album Of All-Time?” (Answer: No. That would be Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu.) “Not to go all grandpa on you,” the author of that article declares, “but that’s not music; it’s just noise.”

Well, yes, but it’s morbidly fascinating noise nonetheless. At first, the Stalaggh backstory (as recounted in this interview) set off our bullshit detectors. Black metal dudes round up a bunch of lunatics and record them screaming at each other in an abandoned monastery chapel? That sounds too perfectly horrific to be true. Then we managed to make it through about 20 minutes of Projekt Misanthropia (you can stream the whole damn thing on YouTube) and you know what? We’re pretty sure that’s the sound of a bunch of lunatics screaming at each other. It’s so thick with human suffering and despair that it literally makes your skin crawl. The room seems to get darker the longer you let it play. People avoid eye contact with you for days after you’ve listened to it. It might be the bleakest “music” anyone’s ever recorded.

Not content to stop there, the core members of Stalaggh (who keep their identities a closely guarded secret) formed a new band called Gulaggh in 2008. Where Stalaggh was inspired in part by, and named after, the prisoner-of-war and concentration camps of Nazi Germany, Gulaggh is more directly inspired by the Stalin-era prison camps (gulags) of Soviet Russia. Each album of a proposed Gulaggh trilogy will be named after a different Russian prison camp, and the first album in the trilogy, Vorkuta (the only one released so far), begins with a recording of a Stalin speech.

But Stalin isn’t the creepiest part of Vorkuta. The members of Stalaggh/Gulaggh have one-upped themselves by now incorporating atonally played classical instruments and, scariest of all, the shrieks and screams of women and children: 30 children from a youth mental hospital (it took them over a year to get permission to record them) and a group of what one Gulaggh member calls “damaged women,” by which he means rape victims and ex-prostitutes. The results are, frankly, fucking terrifying. We won’t subject you to the whole thing, but here’s a snippet:

Inevitably, this sort of thing begs the question: Is this “art”? Or is it just horrible, gratuitous noise? In their rare interviews, which mostly seem to be done via email, the members of Stalaggh/Gulaggh tend to sidestep these questions: “We do not like being called any form of  ‘artist’. Art is creative, we are destructive.” But I think the real answer lies somewhere in the middle. By attempting to capture the worst human emotions—fear, pain, anger, hatred, self-loathing, despair—in their rawest form, and placing them in a context that evokes humanity at its worst (the “gh” at the end of both band names stands for “global holocaust”), the mysterious folks behind these projects force listeners to confront their own dark sides with an immediacy that I’m not sure conventional music ever could. There’s some art in that, I think. Then again, they’ve also allegedly prompted at least one fan to nearly kill himself by carving :STALAGGH: into his chest with a knife—so yeah, there’s a gratuitous, sadistic quality to this stuff that certain people respond to, as well.

The thing I actually find most interesting about Stalaggh/Gulaggh is this: Nearly everyone who first hears about the projects assumes that the mentally ill vocalists were somehow abused or tortured during the recording process, or at the very least were recorded without their knowledge or against their will. Wesley, the reader who most recently suggested we check this stuff out (thanks, Wesley!), noted, “Supposedly [the vocals] were mostly recorded in the hallways of a mental institution for the criminally insane,” implying that a.) the patients were unwitting participants and b.) this is what mental institutions usually sound like.

Well, no and no. (We’re not trying to single you out, Wesley; everyone, us included, buys into rumors and false assumptions when confronted with this stuff.) “All patients who have worked with us gave their full written permission,” a band member explained in one interview. “They are not retards, but they suffer from illnesses like schizophrenia, psychosis, borderline, multiple personality syndrome etc. Some of them are a lot more intelligent than normal people.” And, in another interview: “We always tell all vocalists who participate on our projekts what :STALAGGH: is all about. Most of them agree with our ideology….Several of them called recording with us the best therapy they ever had.”

So here’s another level Stalaggh/Gulaggh operates at: It challenges our assumptions about the mentally ill. It turns out you can be filled with almost unimaginable depths of mental anguish and have enough free will to participate in a recording session in which you channel that mental anguish into…well, not music, exactly, but an aural expression of anguish. So the vocalists are not merely the hapless victims of their illness; they are band members and active participants in the Stalaggh/Gulaggh aesthetic, as much as the non-institutionalized people who initiated both projects. At least that’s what I believe. I know plenty of listeners will reject the bands’ explanations about their clinically insane members and just hear sick people being exploited. But I think the reality is more complicated, and more interesting. (Although I do have issues with describing the women on Vorkuta as “damaged.”)

Just to keep us on our toes, however, Gulaggh have announced that the next album in their Stalin-inspired trilogy, Kolyma, will not feature mental patients, at least not exclusively. It will feature vocalists who were born deaf. “Their screams are almost animal like because they have never heard their own voice,” the band explains. “The other interesting thing is that they won’t hear the screams of the others, so it will be much more chaotic.” How it could get any more chaotic than Vorkuta we’re not sure, but Gulaggh will probably find a way.

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Fly the really, really unfriendly skies: Black metal legend Euronymous could wind up on the side of a plane

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We’ve always said that if there’s one thing the airline industry needs, it’s more black metal. I mean, what image emblazoned across the tail fin of a Boeing 737 could possibly make travelers feel safer than the painted visage of Mayhem‘s murdered leader, Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, glaring down at the passenger cabin like a guardian demon from some especially cold, Norwegian circle of hell?

Thanks to an online poll currently being conducted by Norwegian, a discount Scandinavian airline (think Southwest, only the flight attendants have better cheekbones), the above scenario could actually happen. Norwegian is asking their customers to pick famous Norwegian people to grace the tail fins of four planes in their fleet, and currently, Euronymous is leading in the poll for the Oslo-based jet. If you want to get in on the black metal action, go here and cast your vote (the site’s in Norwegian, but the voting’s pretty easy to figure out).

Voters can submit their own candidates, but as far as we can tell, Euronymous was actually one of the famous people nominated by the good folks at Norwegian, which officially makes them the coolest airline on the planet. At least until Virgin steps up and puts Ozzy Osbourne on the side of one of their planes. No, wait, that still wouldn’t be cooler than honoring an avowed Satanist who was hacked to death by his own bass player.

Voting closes March 28th (aka this Wednesday), so get cracking. And a word of advice to Norwegian: If Euronymous wins, I wouldn’t puss out if I were you. Those Norwegian black metal people have been known to burn shit down when they get cranky.

(P.S. Big ups to Richard from Army of Gay Unicorns for alerting us to this story. You, sir, are the wind beneath our inverted-cross-covered wings.)

[Update: As of April 5th, Euronymous has sadly been removed from the list of candidates for tail fin immortality, at the behest of his family. If you black metal fans need a new online campaign to wage, I suggest lobbying the makers of Newcastle Brown Ale to make a limited-edition Newcastle Black Ale honoring Newcastle natives Venom. Get on it!]

Mayhem

Listen, I love banging my head and getting down with the sickness as much as the next hesher, but I gotta say, as far as the the dudes in Norway’s black metal scene are concerned, I’m out. I cannot hang with these motherfuckers. They’re like metal, gangsta rap, the Manson Family and a Lars Von Trier movie all wrapped up in barbed wire, dipped in shit, set on fire and stuffed like an apple of pure evil into the mouth of a rotting severed pig’s head. When it comes to metal, Norway don’t play.

 Read our interview with Mayhem guitarist Teloch (posted 6/13/14)

At the heart of the whole black metal scene—and if you’re not familiar, this long but very excellent article will get you up to speed—is a band called Mayhem, who have somehow managed to stay in business since 1984 despite enduring a suicide and a murder before they even released their first official album. The suicide happened in 1991 and involved an ill-fated lead singer named Dead who blew his brains out with a shotgun and left a note that read (roughly translated): “Sorry about all the blood, rock on.” The murder went down two years later and involved two members of the band—the victim, a guitarist named Euronymous, and the perp, a bass player named Varg Vikernes. That’s the dude’s real name, by the way. Euronymous’s real name was Øystein Aarseth, which is actually cooler than Euronymous. Apparently pretty much everyone in Norway has a name that sounds like they could be in a black metal band. [Correcton: Varg’s birth name was actually Kristian Vikernes. Which still sounds pretty badass.]

At this point, you’re probably thinking: Big deal! Singers are an emotionally delicate bunch who off themselves all the time, and I’ve wanted to kill that preening asshole of a lead guitarist in my garage band for years. Where’s the weird come into it? Well, stay tuned. We’re just getting to the good stuff.

First: It’s important to note that when Euronymous found Dead’s body (and by the way, when your lead singer decides that his stage name is gonna be “Dead,” that might raise a red flag, no?), his first action was not to call police or paramedics, but to break out his camera and snap a few pics. One of which found its way onto a “bootleg” Mayhem album called Dawn of the Black Hearts just a few years later. Wanna see it? Of course you do, you fucking sicko. Classy, right?

It’s also rumored that Euronymous and the rest of the band made a stew of Dead’s brains and turned fragments of his skull into necklaces, although that’s all probably just a rumor. Probably.

Next: It’s also important to note that when Varg Vikernes was convicted of murdering Euronymous, he was also convicted for his role in a series of church arsons, which were allegedly carried out by a band of black metal Satanists. One of the destroyed churches was over 800 years old. Like I said, Norway don’t play.

Oh, and this is a nice little detail: Mayhem’s first album after Euronymous’s murder, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, still featured the bass tracks laid down by his killer. The band’s drummer, Hellhammer, had promised Euronymous’ family that he would personally re-record Vikernes’s bass parts, but he never did. “I thought it was appropriate that the murderer and victim were on the same record,” he later said.

You will not be surprised to learn that De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas remains the band’s most famous and most acclaimed album. That excellent article from the U.K. Guardian I mentioned earlier calls it a “creepy masterpiece.” How much of the creepy is from the music and how much from the backstory, I’ll let you decide.

What might be the weirdest thing of all about Mayhem is that a.) they’re still together and b.) no one in the band has killed himself or anyone else since (that we know of). Since Euronymous’s murder and the release of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, the thing they’re probably most famous for is decorating the stage at their shows with severed pig’s heads, which they usually toss into the audience at the end of the night. One time they used a sheep’s head instead, which are apparently more dangerous than pig’s heads in projectile form, because this particular sheep’s head struck a kid in the audience and fractured his skull. Oopsie.

Here’s a 2004 live video of the band performing one of their best-known songs, “Freezing Moon” at some big outdoor festival in Europe, pigs heads and all. The vocalist in this particular clip is a dude called Maniac, who was actually kicked out of the band shortly after this show because he suffered from stage fright and had to get wasted before he could perform. The guitarist in the clip, a guy called Blasphemer (yeah, this band goes through a lot of singers and guitarists), allegedly fired Maniac after one particularly drunken performance by kicking him down a flight of stairs. Considering what some of the other guys in this band have been through, we’d say Maniac got off easy.

You might also like: Impaled Northern Moonforest, Cattle Decapitation, Hatebeak

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