Monday, November 29, 2010

Effigies - Artifaction II

I first acquired Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion in 1987, as I was simply too young to buy it when it was originally released. Like many nascent metalheads, the forbidding cover image ignited my fascination with the work of HR Giger. In short order, I managed to acquire several of his books despite the pain of scrambling for money at every turn to do so. As I became engrossed in the nameless realms and striated landscapes of Giger's paintings, I felt ever more envious of Tom and Celtic Frost for having access to such an incredible artist. I quietly promised myself that one day my band would find a master of our own to help bring our presentation to new heights.

Two decades later, I found myself speaking enthusiastically with an artist named Jos A. Smith about licensing his artwork for our upcoming album, Advent Parallax. Jos was a contemporary of Giger, and they had actually collaborated together on designs for an unmade film called "The Tourist". That aside, Jos' work was just as captivating and massive as his Swiss counterpart, and before long we were actively collaborating on new commissions for Averse Sefira. The results can be seen in the Advent Parallax booklet, but until now the original drawings have not been published. To wit:

Sanguine Mapsama

The Carcass

Wrath - original version, unused
Wrath - 2nd version

It is difficult to describe the sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from working with such a talented and unique fine artist. Moreover, it is almost impossible to describe how it feels to have a life-long aspiration become reality.

And Sanguine recently found this tribute:

This was painted by Tom Neely as part of a series of black metal Post-It note art. It is striking that such a simple format can capture so much, and that our work speaks to so many gifted individuals. We are honored and humbled.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Frost and the dilemma of black metal

I hate the word 'dilemma'. It looks remedial with the double "m", as if it is misspelled. I also hate it because it rarely describes a situation with favorable choices. Perhaps it is a fittingly undesirable word in the end.

After a couple of seasons worth of select screenings, Until the Light Takes Us finally made it out to DVD last week. While I appraised it almost two years ago, it bears repeating that I support the film and the messages within. Get the 2-disc version if you can, as the extra content is almost a second movie unto itself. Since it hit the shelves, several people have surprised me by saying, "Frost seems like a fag".

Let's rewind the world about fifteen years and re-examine that statement - time was, right after the explosion (or implosion, perhaps) of True Norwegian Black Metal™, Frost was one of the few who kept the fires burning. Not only was he a remarkable drummer, but he donned bizarre, non-standard corpse paint and wore enough leather and spikes to outfit three bands. Here was someone who wanted to push the envelope, to manifest the idea of black metal as a tangible, physical presence. I always found it inspiring, and clearly I was not the only one.

As Satyricon transformed into a rock band, Frost toned down the presentation accordingly. Left to his own devices, however, he owned his image and lived in it the way most people live in jeans and t-shirts. 1349 became the outlet for these projections, but even as a solitary figure it was rare to catch him in public without the full gamut of black metal regalia. It never seemed like a question of impressing anyone; it was merely his way of facing the world.

He addresses this manner very eloquently on the bonus disc of Until the Light Takes Us (this is partly why the 2-DVD set is recommended), and I experienced it firsthand at the conclusion of 1349's US tour. I found myself awestruck and even envious that he could be that entity without exception. This is something that cannot be learned any more than one could learn to be taller. It is strictly inherent, and no amount of skepticism or naysaying can change it. In many interviews, I have stated that nobody came out of the womb wearing corpse paint and spikes, but maybe Frost is an exception. His avatar was probably there from the beginning, and it was simply waiting for the right moment to manifest.

Here, finally, is the dilemma. As the documentary illustrated, black metal has been available for public consumption for quite a while, and for the most part it is aped, misappropriated, and then discarded. This means that a dedicated figure like Frost will always be misunderstood. On one hand, onlookers get the impression that he lives by candlelight and wears armor to the grocery store and see it as novel and funny. When it becomes clear that his way is actually close to that perception, the same people chortle and dismiss him as some kind of fruitcake.

So, dear weekenders, how are we supposed to act? These personas are emblematic of who we are. They must exist because our conventional selves cannot make the journey to the dark reaches that we seek. The paint binds us to death and demonism, and the spikes and armor hearken back to a time when land was won by fire and steel. Black metal is a form of music, first and foremost, but its trappings say, "We are not of you. Stay out."

Ultimately, this didn't stop the rest of the world from barging in, but at its core the message remains unchanged. For all the artistic significance of the movement, it could not have existed without the emblematic figures. This is why Frost is important; he proves that the image is as real as he wants it to be, and it isn't just a Halloween costume or a shock tactic. Call him names all you like - he clearly couldn't care less. His life is an extension of his art, and his conviction and talent have afforded him the chance to exist in this mode on his own terms. Can you say the same?

Monday, November 8, 2010


Unknown Finnish black metal band shirt

It seems like an obvious statement, but our visages are not public domain. Our paint is designed and worn for specific reasons that belong to us alone. Do not presume to treat it like a style option. This also applies to all the arrivists who co-opt Abbath's black diamond paint. Just stick with the 'panda bear' look - it says everything about your mediocrity.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Breath of life - Delineated, pt II

Beaten again by inches. Damn your tenacity. I had better make this count.

I awoke laying on my back in the white space. Here again. It was only my third visit. She leaned into my view, inverted as she knelt by the top of my head. She smiled, said hello, and then asked me how I had been feeling. I told her that things had been difficult, but I was trying to work it out. She said she knew, and that she had something that might help. When she leaned over and kissed me, it tasted like rain and the earth. It was life, thriving and fresh, a kiss of salvation. I realized in that moment that this was no mortal who was extending her favor to me. She leaned back again and assured me with a shimmering smile that I would feel better. When I awoke, things were different.
This year has been one of many great experiences, but it has often been undercut with worry and doubt. I stopped writing here as much because I don't like to talk about defeating moments or the fears and agonies that come with keeping a dream alive. Last weekend, a certain friend whom I respect immeasurably insisted that I should not allow this space to become derelict, and despite my weak excuses I realized he was right. 

Averse Sefira has always been its own creature, and it does what it wants in its own time. Fortunately, that time is coming again after a spate of relative silence. Many of you have seen me out on the desolate roads of America in other capacities, and your praise of our work has been a great solace and inspiration. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on us to make good on your expectations and honor your dedication with more and better. I am sorry I have to dangle the promise of album 5 over everyone's heads, but it is either that or remain silent, and clearly nobody prefers this option.
In the wake of our reignition, Triptykon and 1349 played Austin last Friday. It was exhilarating to see our friends all but tear down the venue with their mastery. It was also a strange feeling to not have been a part of the show. Granted, Sanguine and I enjoy being spectators as well, but there were lingering regrets that we couldn't have pursued being on the lineup. 

It was Triptykon's first time in Austin, and they introduced themselves with a degree of darkness and fury that continues to reverberate in my mind. As a unit they were fantastic, and Tom's command presence signaled a mighty return to his fans, skeptics, and the uninitiated. When Celtic Frost disbanded, I bemoaned the idea of losing connection with such an important elder statesman, but now he is back and more powerful than ever before. His choices of Vanja, V. Santura, and Norman were impeccable; not only are they dedicated and strong performers, but as individuals they are brilliant, genuine, and an absolute pleasure to know. They are collaborators and believers in Tom's vision, and it seems that they will succeed in taking Triptykon to realms that Celtic Frost could not explore. It is exciting to consider the possibilities, and I hope to witness as much of it as I can in the years ahead.

After working as stage manager for the recent Immolation/Vader tour, I found that the regular rigors of the live circuit were still there, and that we hadn't missed much in that regard. But then there were those singular moments, the ones that keep all bands on the road like deluded gamblers looking for that next big score; the great shows and transcendent performances. It was hard to watch them pass us by.

So what I learned in the last month is that metal is still the best thing on earth, watching friends triumph is almost as great as doing it yourself, and our fifth album is going to be a strong one because in many ways it is in the name of rejoining the greatness around us. It would have happened regardless, but I particularly owe a huge vote of thanks to many of my peers who counseled and encouraged me to keep the faith even at the most challenging moments. It made all the difference. And to the one in white space - thank you, too.