Machine Music's Albums of the Decade: An Interview with Krallice
This is the 30th installment of the Albums of the Decade series of interviews. For the rest of the series go HERE.]
Album: Years Past Matter
Label: Independent (Later via Gilead Media)
Favorite Song: "IIIIIIII"
The Bare Bones: Years Past Matter is the fourth studio album by American black metal/avant-metal group Krallice, originally released as a limited CD by the band and later pressed on vinyl by Gilead Media. It would later be remastered as part of The Wastes of Time set of the first four Krallice full-lengths via Gilead Media.
The Beating Heart: Krallice is one of the most important, influential, and challenging metal acts of the 21st century, bending together black and death metal into a new, foreign and often intimidating shape. Taking their cue from other forward-thinking extreme metal acts, such as Deathspell Omega and Gorguts, Krallice is that rare example of an artistic collective that is as committed to maintaining what could be called the general "tradition" of heavy metal as well as to stretching, questioning, and at times annihilating that very framework. And with Years Past Matter Krallice manages to crystallize these two seemingly opposing forces into a unified, majestic whole – a body of music and form that is in constant war with itself, and the ensuing struggle that takes on the form of, against all odds, music. Which is a really convoluted way of saying Years Past Matter is a towering, twisted, mesmerizing symphony of cerebral musical violence.
On a personal note, this interview serves as an important point of reference in my ongoing interest in the New York avant-garde metal scene over the years, one that has yielded related interviews in this series, such as the ones with Yellow Eyes, Imperial Triumphant, Woe, and Kayo Dot, as well as other interviews I have conducted in the past, such as those with Liturgy and Extra Life/Psalm Zero. So, feel free to check those out as well. More to come, I expect.
As always, before proceeding to my conversation with Krallice's Nicholas McMaster I would like to encourage any who are interested to read the rest of this ongoing project, with a few more exciting conversations yet to come. You can follow us on any one of our social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram, Spotify) and also, if so inclined, support us on Patreon. My aim has been to use whatever support we can get to produce interviews like these, focusing on the art and life of that art, as well as other projects supporting our local scene, such as the newly launched music compilation MILIM KASHOT VOL. 1 of amazing local metal, hardcore, and noise. Thank you all for being here. Now for my talk with Nick.
So what happened when I thought about the decade is that it became clear to me that it's also the decade when I started writing about music, and so making sense of the music that took place during that decade seemed to me to have to have a form that addressed that too, my own writing, which then turned into all these interviews. And it's the best thing I've ever done in my life that isn't my children. But I find that quite often artists enjoy retrospect because it's not something they often have a chance to do. They often are kind of struck in that kind of album promo cycle of the last thing they did. And it's I think it's nice to talk about the next thing or what you're doing right now but it's also interesting to asking think about things that took place, in some cases, a decade ago.
A good 90% of the time that Krallice has been a band, which is slightly over a decade now, we have been locked in “What's the next thing?” Working out there next batch of songs, kind of tunnel vision on the what’s directly ahead. And it really helps when you're in the process of making stuff to keep that in mind because it just limits the things you have to think about in a given time to the music you're making at that moment. The funny thing is I actually have been thinking about Krallice retrospectively quite a bit lately because we put out that a collection of the Gilead Media remasters of the vinyls of our first four albums. So that made me process all of that, since I haven’t listened to our stuff that much. I mean I did during the recording itself, with pre-production demos and when I was doing my stuff, but I’m usually not going back to my old records. It’s as if two records ago never existed for me. So going back to those after a big gap, it was really interesting.
And then another layer of that is pretty soon we're going to be putting out a live tape [now out as Rot and Waste Live] and we’re highlighting the fact that it’s a tape since to note that it's like a little on the raw side. Basically there's this guy who's been coming to our shows in New York for quite some time and he has one of those fairly high end handheld digital recorders. And he used to stand up in the front, equally equidistant from the two guitars, and just hold this thing up, like without moving the entire show. And you'd see it again and again, and eventually Mick [Barr] made contact with this guy and he just gave us all the recordings of like 13 Krallice shows stretching over a 10-year period. And so we all dug into that for a bit, and basically what’s coming out is a collection of all the longest songs [laughs]. It’s only four songs but they were all the longest songs on the albums they were on.
So on top of the years that have passed, it's not so much how many years ago that was but some traits that we abandoned specifically. Like that we would lay out in time and devote minutes to building certain musical moments, which is something we’ve really turned away from, so it feels like kind of a different band, and in a way that strikes me as more real than the records because a record can be a sort of collage, it doesn’t have to be unified in time.
I want to focus on one thing before I ask my first question, which is ridiculous, but I think it's really interesting that you speak in terms of the inescapability of the truth factor in live recordings. Something like one can wiggle, rationalize, escape, or repress things that have to do with the recording process. But if it's a live album you're confronted with the fact that it is you. And there's something very terrifying about that, at least the way you described it.
Yeah, but it’s also you tired, you probably hot, it might be the end of a show. It’s you in extremity.
I would add to that in a moment of gratuitous self reflexivity, because that's kind of my thing.
That the dark side to this interview project is listening to myself. And I'm sure this moment right now will be especially cringy for me, because when I listen when I listen to myself, I notice when I won't let another person speak or when another person was really on the cusp of saying something that was very important for them or maybe difficult for them to say, but I couldn't take the silence.
That you weren't really listening.
Yes. And much like what you're describing with live performances, there's really no way out of that. It's me being a shithead and there's no excuse.
Well, probably not 100% of the time. I can get pretty hard on myself with similar things. You kind of have to be self-consciously kind to yourself.
I try, but it’s fucking horrible sometimes.
OK, so the first real question is this: Do you remember a time when you were a younger person, this could be as a really young kid or a teenager, when you heard a song, you heard an album, you were introduced to an album, you saw artwork to an album, something that had to do with that, that completely changed how you thought about music? I realize a lot of people have a bunch of those, but one that you remember.
Sure, I have one. Like you said, hopefully one has several of those moments, because that’s really what it’s about. But when I was in 11th grade in high school, I might have been listening to some metal, but the time I was really into metal was right when I was finishing high school, I got super intensely into a survey of all forms of metal. But before that I had been listening to a lot of electronic stuff. Given that it’s the 90s so a lot of WARP Records – Autuchre, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Boards of Canada and minimal techno like Chain Reaction, Basic Channel, that sort of stuff. And reaching into a kind of spectrum from that being the most “dancy” I would get, which wasn’t all that dancy, to the more noise, dark ambient and just sort of all around weird side like Coil and Death in June, Nurse with Wound, and Current 93. But Coil was the big one. They had a back catalogue and they were the most electronic-y in addition to having this kind of esoteric weirdness.
And I was also into the Canadian band Skinny Puppy, who were a bit more dancey, they kind of had that element of 80s music, not exactly techno but just more kind of dance, along with a very, very serious and frankly, at the time, terrifying industrial sensibility. Layers and layers of movie samples, harsh sounds, banging shit around, all in one package. Basically, their musical trajectory goes from sounding like evil versions of 80s dance hits like “You Spin me Right Round” or “Tainted Love” or something like that just with harsher vocals, up through a sort of weird trajectory of getting weirder until about Last Rights in ‘92. Yeah. That record is what I consider their pinnacle, embracing the endpoints of this textural approach that they had and having a really fucking free definition of what a song was. There definitely being a structure and a ton of sort of deliberation, but to an end that felt so anti-structural.
Anyway, the song I have in mind is “Knowhere?”, and it kind of just has very few markers. It has a simple beat that has a metronomic feel to it, except it sounds like a giant thunderous explosion, and then just this soup of ambient sounds and vocals. I guess the most recognizable thing is the vocals when they come in, but every now and again there's this weird too-fake, MIDI, clean-sounding orchestral swells within down-tuned, palm-muting metal guitar that’s just playing one note. All this stuff that’s just hanging in space, but being like a cacophony without really having a part that sounds, to be cheesy, like a “song.”
So would you say that your attraction to it had to do with fear or confusion?
I guess it was the artistic bravery to have that be your song. And not to say that they weren't getting away with it, because the thing still to me radiated that it took a ton of work, a ton of composition, but that they were so unencumbered by the forms passed down through, you know, The Beatles, or whatever. Even something like Ministry, for example, who sort of appeared with Skinny Puppy, can appear extreme in certain ways, but even with a different song structure you can tie it back to rock, to The Beatles, still tied to convention. I mean, I discovered all this stuff in a couple of years because things kind of happen faster when you’re younger [laughs]. But that’s just how I felt, I felt like this Skinny Puppy song was totally brutal. And the other thing was that it sounded like fucking hell, like literal hell. I was a pretty gothy kid, and the idea of literalizing the sound of an armageddon, it’s harsh
That’s interesting. Freedom is a very important concept when you're talking about art and music, specifically, and the desire to remain free or to express freedom is very important. But freedom is different to different people. Someone could listen to someone like Al Jorgensen and say “That guy is free, he does whatever the fuck he wants,” and for that person it wouldn’t be that important that Ministry remains within the general structure of a pop song. He sounds like he's free, which I think is a fair statement.
Yeah, I would agree.
And someone like Aphex Twin or Squarepusher sounds free because there's a lot of activity there in enacting that freedom. So, an Aphex Twin beat, famously, fucks around, and that fucking around with the beat could be an indication of freedom. But the kind of freedom you're talking about is kind of different. Because you're talking about a freedom that is almost like an abstract lack of movement.
To tie this to Krallice, if I may, I find that when it comes to music my “priority one” that I'm usually looking at is structure, the undergirding or any internal logic that dominates it. So I totally agree with your assessment about Ministry, Al Jorgensen is totally free, but he's kind of politically, culturally free, where “free” is to be a total badass. He’s such a badass that who cares if he plays pop formats? He sounds harsh, he does, I’m not disputing that. And I like a lot of that stuff too. But the Skinny Puppy freedom – in this case, they don't have a monopoly on this – is freedom from the structural process of making music, its deep logic. And their bravery is just sort of not-giving-a-fuckness. Or, if I could put it a different way, more positively, that they had the skill to create something that works as a song, in the sense that I listened to its four-minute run time and enjoyed myself, and yet it has almost none of the structures. Free on a structural level.
Okay, so you’ve added another layer to that is an important one, that it's not just “Fuck the structure,” because there are ways to rebel against structure that are boring, or that are not satisfying in whatever it is that you want to get out of a piece of music. And so when you listen to Skinny Puppy you felt like you're getting both: you're getting someone who seems to be very serious about what he's doing and very skillful and at the same time a person who’s taking all that skill and talent to deconstruct something as opposed to repeat it.
Yeah. The funny thing is that my rationale, the music that I have been involved in doing across all the bands, has been way more conservative and way more married to instruments and “parts” and things like that. It’s funny that we’re talking about all this fetishizing of total deconstruction and this “sound realm” type of music, which I love and love and lots of stuff that just sort of paints in the lines, I’m just not as involved in making it [laughs].
Just to be clear, you're saying, and just to use the example for which we have convened, Krallice, lies on the more conservative side of this equation?
Well, keep in mind I really mean just that one piece of a song [laughs].
Yeah, I know, I’m just obsessing over it.
So, in the brief moment where that appears in their catalogue then, yes, I guess you could say that Krallice is more conservative.
In what way? Is it the instrumentation thing?
Well, very simply and not judgmentally, Krallice definitely fucks around with production, and we sometimes have interludes, but what you’re hearing most of the time is tieable to us, the band, in a room playing their instruments. There might be reverb washes on the guitar that are approximating a sort of dark ambient thing or something, but you're hearing the drums being played, and you can always kind of tie it back to music in that sense. If you think about it, something like a classic music recording is all the way the end of the spectrum that I'm of describing here, where there's a one to one correspondence – you hear it and you know that the musicians played in this configuration, and all this stuff, you know, and then you have ambient noise, or whatever you want to call it, a sort of abstract electronic music piece where there's really like no correlation to the physical reality of an instrument reality.
I mean, this kind of touches on something I wanted to talk to you about anyway, and I see it approaching a little differently than I thought it would. So I, I think when we chatted, you know, a few days ago, and I mentioned the fact that I've been kind of following what is now known or what has been known for a while as the New York black metal or experimental metal scene. And one of the things that I've noticed in me trying to figure out what's the deal with all these bands I like that are American and that do black metal and why that's weird for me. And so, one of the things that has come up is the perceived connection between certain American black metal bands and space or spaciousness. And when I'm thinking about that, I'm thinking of bands like Weakling, Wolves in the Throne Room, maybe Panopticon, where it seems a lot of what makes those bands American black metal is Neurosis. I'm making a lot of shortcuts here, but basically that there is this kind of tribal, post rocky influence that's making them explore space. However, and this is where I get to what we were talking, the New York bands don't explore space. Not the way I see it at least. And I think Krallice is the perfect example. And here, I want to get to what you're saying. Because when you listen to Krallice, you claim it you are you say that for free from your end. It is a conservative, relatively speaking, conservative kind of rock group playing instruments, and there's no attempt to kind of muffle the source and so on.
Not that there’s not attempt but that there’s less of an attempt, that we retain an overall recognizability. For instance with the drums, we never radically changed the sound of the drums in post-production, and the same with the guitars.
Yes, fantastic. But I think that there are things that are done in Krallice, and I'd like to hear what you think about this, that don't necessarily have anything to do with production, but do have to do with a style of playing, that I hear as being much less conservative than you claim. Because, for instance, the tremolo guitars on Krallice albums, a lot of time are so tremolo they're not guitars anymore, and the sound they produce is so repetitive and high pitched that it's not a guitar anymore, it's something else. And so for me as a listener, this has nothing to do with the conditions of production but is still actually a lot closer to what you describe listening to Skinny Puppy than what you're saying about your guys’ music.
I should say that I was only talking about sort of one axis along which you could describe anything a conservative, which is the production quality and the quality of being a conventional rock band as we know it. And there are other things you can do with your music writing to be deeply innovative, original, or not beholden to form, there's all sorts of ways to accomplish that. But, to respond to what you said – I think it's a compliment, because, and I don't think I can recall having had this conversation with the guys from the band, so I can't really speak for them, but for me that's a bit of a Holy Grail in the type of music we're working in, to achieve something via just the instrumental play that does something, pushing that air around in the room, frequencies that are working with the subjective nature of the human brain and its susceptibility to certain frequencies, through a mixture of straight physics and cultural factors, to just do something that makes you feel like some sort of special effect is happening, some sort of post production fuckery. Because I'm gonna say most of the time you hear that in Krallice it’s not the result of post production. And I think it has a different quality. So, anything to do stuff with – with rhythm, with organization of how the riffs repeat with syncopation, with subverting expectations regarding harmonic progressions, different chords, how they’re going to go and how they’re going to resolve – those are all things that you try, to leverage a whole bag of tricks to try to create that sort of extra musical moment, that: “Wow, is this the band or is this something else?”
So, yeah, thank you [laughs], I would say that’s definitely intentional. It’s just trying to achieve that through instrumental means. And the other thing is also to say that every once a while, and maybe slightly more lately, we do have more overdubs with synthesizers and maybe a couple more genuine production tricks. Actually on Go Be Forgotten, on the third song, the title track, we recorded that song, it's pretty long, in two chunks – a four-and-a-half-minute beginning, and then there's a sort of natural segue where it tapers out anyway, and then a six-and-a-half-minute ending so that you get quite high energy. So we did those in totally different sessions with different amps, not really being concerned about making it sound like they were recorded at the same time, just embracing the nature of it. Definitely everybody using some different amps and maybe mics or whatever. And then Colin just segues them in this way along with this cool high-pass filter and to create a weird textural moment that bridges the two sessions, where the changeover happened. From that point on you’re listening to the second recording, which, again, has a slightly different drum sound, a slightly different everything sound.
So, what I'm trying to say is that there isn’t a rule against doing it that way either. But it's just that, first of all, we do want to be able to play live, so the song has to have some sort of form there reducible to that. And second of all when your focus is to try to achieve this sort of, I’ll just say that sort of sense of wonder through purely instrumental means, also in the writing, then any sort of studio trickery you use is going to go just a lot further. You're not asking it to do all the heavy lifting of sounding totally normal in the room, and then sounding like you're flying through the galaxy on the recording [laughs].
Yeah. I think what happens is, and I'm interested in hearing your opinion, and I apologize for latching on that Skinny Puppy comment, but I'm also not sorry. And one of the things that we talked about when we talked about that moment was the element of skill, right? And maybe there's a historical material context to why in the 90s electronic music being manipulated was a greater sign of skill for some artists than, say, shredding on guitar, because they knew shredding on guitar was a skill, but it wasn't one they were interested in, maybe it felt boring, maybe it felt done. And they were saying: “So I'm putting all my talents into this computer, and that's where I'll showcase my skills.” So maybe in the 90s that was the case, and maybe maybe it matters, maybe it doesn't, but maybe it matters that in Krallice and some like-minded bands like perhaps Yellow Eyes, that there is an importance to displaying skill with the instrument itself, that the Holy Grail, as you put it, would be to make it sound like it was a freak of nature, like the devil playing or whatever, this supernatural sound effect. But it's somehow important that that sound effect is produced through the instrument as opposed to a manipulation of the instrument. I'm not claiming that you're a purist, but maybe it matters for you as a band, and perhaps this is a mark of the scene you are or were a part of that you are skillful while doing all this crazy shit.
This doesn’t change this all that much, but I was referring, when speaking of Skinny Puppy, of compositional skill. But more relevantly to what you just said, the fundamental action of being in this band is going over to each other's houses or studio and go: “I have this song.” And the “song,” so to speak, is us playing something, a collection of riffs or parts or whatever on guitar. If we pulled “a Radiohead” [laughs], meaning if we transitioned from being a band that was mostly kind of rock Instrumental to having so much outside manipulation and shifts, where it's all in different instruments and electronic instruments and especially recorded places and stuff like that, the songs just stop being reproducible, a moment occurring between a bunch of dudes in a room. It could lead to some really awesome music and I'm not discounting that approach, and, hell, maybe when more time goes by we should commit to doing something like that, that wouldn't ever be “practice again” or whatever. But a bit of it would be kind of self defeating, because at the end of the day this is about playing guitar with each other [laughs], playing guitar, playing parts. That’s the fundamental, conservative thing.
And that also ties to that “truth” we were talking about, that the final expression of the song is – especially for us because we record pretty live even in the studio context – going to be tied to a real moment in time. There's definitely something kind of profound about that, something that you can lose when you start making music that's artificially put together.
So, I want to latch on to that, because, in preparing for this conversation, I read some older interviews and I listened to a relatively new interview you gave this year.
Yes, and you mentioned Steve Digiorgio – and I'm raising going to place these names on a shelf to kind of make the point – and you were talking about Type O Negative. And, not as an attempt to generalize your entire musical taste as a person, but just like as a touchstone, there was a sense that a negative quality of music for you would be something like indulgence, and indulgence having to do sometimes, structurally, with songs that kind of sound like a “rock band.” And then on the other end a kind of an attraction to what I think you called “imperfect metal.” And, and I think Steve Digiorgio, was a name given in that context. So, what does imperfect metal mean?
So what I was talking about there with imperfect metal, or that I expressed, was that – I probably don’t have to say this, but I’ll say it – where you’re recording a rock or metal or any kind of album these days it's possible to do something like a live track, where everybody plays together, although sometimes it's just a scratch track, and the guitarist and the bassist know that they’re not keeping what they're playing, and you're only really recording the drums for the album at that moment, but everybody plays with him just so it naturally reflects the songs better. And then the bassist goes and does all his shit just by sitting by the console, in a way that's very different from being there, and so on. And I've made albums that way, I'm not dismissing that whole process, but that lends itself to an approach where you're listening back again, and again, and again, and you start to identify every little thing that's slightly unideal or begins to sound like an error, keep doing passes of punch-ins, which are recordings of just very small passages. So, that's very possible and a lot of bands, even that I like, do it that way. I'm not really on a crusade, again, it's happening so much as…. Well, I guess I am on a crusade…
But what I’m trying to say is that when you do that it has a side effect of making the whole thing kind of give this sheen of unreality. Or, another way to put that, when it hasn't been done, there's sometimes a feel or a coherent emotional state that’s communicated through the entire unedited performance, that, to me is often more valuable than whatever is conferred by the totally perfect playthrough. Obviously, it would be best to have both, to have a playthrough with no mistakes but also not edited, so you get a good feel from it. But, yeah, I would prefer to have the small mistakes. Especially, and this is another layer, where the small mistakes “tell” you that that's what's going on, which can help confirm your suspicion in the first place. And also, you know, mistakes are their own spontaneous moments, parts were deviated from the plan and it can bring a freshness into your music. Now obviously there are bad mistakes, and I should also say that a lot of what you hear on Krallice albums are live recordings of all of us playing and knowing that what we're playing is going to be the thing. But if we have a live take and everything was awesome and I screwed up really bad in one part, then yes I will correct that, so there are no absolutes here. But it is more live, more feel, as much as possible.
So, this is the place in the conversation where I insert Megadeth, and I say this because I insert Megadeth into each conversation.
And the reason why I insert Megadeth here and, I'm talking about Megadeth in a very specific time, mega between, say, ‘85 and ‘90.
So the first three albums?
Yeah, but I’ll add Rust in Peace in that clump, so the first four. And I have a grudge against the world, because I like Megadeth and the world hates Megadeth. And one of the major points in that grudge is that element that was solidified in 80s metal and became a prominent feature of 90s metal is what we would call “heavy.” And what I would call “heavy,” and there are many definitions of “heavy,” right? But what I mean by “heavy” here is blocks of noise. I think probably classic Slayer personifies that in that time period, what later turns into Pantera. And what loses is a kind of porousness. I mean, you call it “imperfection,” I'm calling it “porousness.” Right, that you can see or hear between the instruments, there's a space there.
And that kind of loses out.
And I agree with you. I really liked the first two Megadeth albums, Killing is My Business and Peace Sells. And I totally agree that there's a really live feel to that, in a lot of ways courtesy of Gar Samuelson, but really all of them. Those records do definitely feel more alive and more of that good imperfect or “good feel” than a lot of thrash.
Yeah, and I agree that it's largely because of Gary Samuelson, and here's where we can latch onto this and have a conversation about Krallice. Because I think the space Gar Samuelson creates allows, for example, for David Ellefson’s bass to come through, because it's almost as if he opens up these blobs of space in the studio. And every time it opens up, you can hear something that you don't often hear in metal, especially when metal becomes very heavy in the 90s, which is the bass, which also to me is what makes Digiorgio such a wonderful example. Because he's a person who shined in a time where, you know, bass players were hidden more and more. And so my version of imperfect metal is the kind of metal where it feels there's space in the room you can hear, you know, it's not a reverb, it's that you can actually hear space, and it's empty, and it's boring, but it's there and it's interesting and human, and it makes something very emotionally attractive for me. And I wonder whether or not your inclinations towards this have to do with the fact that you're a bass player, that one instrument that may be a major victim of over-processed metal.
[Laughs] Yeah, maybe, maybe. I think in the overproduced, so-called “perfect metal” we're talking about, I think there's a tendency to EQ the guitars and the kick drum so they're already putting out a ton of low end, i.e. making the music heavy and stuff like that. And just with the guitars, you've already got a pretty chunky heavy sound, then it’s like the bass. All the bass can do at that point is muddy it up. Because you sort of stole its job, and so now it’s redundant.
But I would like to say that I really like Show No Mercy, the first Slayer record, which also has that “Gar Samuelson” drums and space quality. I actually like the first several Motorhead records for this, actually. There was a period where I had looked to Overkill as reminding me the most of what the Krallice production was at the time, which was during Ygg Huur and Prelapsarian just because it was just kind of instruments without a lot of anything else [laughs].
So, you're saying Motorhead’s production was Krallice’s production?
Yeah, just in terms of not being a ton of things done to, say, the drums or whatever to make them sound more heavy. There was a premium on that sort of space by the band. And also, by total coincidence, the bass tones are relatively similar, because we both kind of like crispy distortion on the bass that doesn’t obscure it too much. I like how I’m talking about Lemmy like a peer, by the way [laughs].
But, to your point, the use of bass can definitely set up a sense of space in the music. But I kind of want to go back to one thing that you said about your theory about American black metal and that sense of spaciousness and that coming from Neurosis. I'm not saying that you're wrong at all, and especially Krallice’s song “Aridity” from Dimensional Bleedthrough, has very specific references to Neurosis. But I think that's only part of the story, because the thing is Eastern European, especially Ukrainian, black metal that is one source of a very spacious approach to black metal that’s sort of pastoral in the same way that Wolves in the Throne Room is. So I agree that a lot of the Norwegian stuff was a bit more claustrophobic in one way or another, but not all of it. I think there was actually some sort of spaciousness, like the Dimmu Borgir’s Stormblast and Burzum’s Filosofem had the same kind of wide-open approach, trying to paint texture more than with having a lot of parts. And then the band Drudkh specifically, but you haven't been the band, especially, which I know was what we were listening to.
I didn't mean to say that the whole thing was Neurosis, I think some parts in some bands had a lot to do with Neurosis. I think it's one element, but what I do think is that it’s interesting is that whatever it is that I identify as a Neurosis-ness…. And I should say Burzum and Ulver are always exceptions to this rule.
Yeah, Ulver’s Bergtatt is very big there.
Right, so I guess I’m not saying the Norwegian bands never did anything spacious, more just that it seems that West Coast and northern American blood Metal bands seemed more attracted to that kind of spaciousness that you could find in, say, Neurosis, Burzum, Ulver, but that’s not necessarily my sense when I listen, say, to Krallice or Yellow Eyes. And so I wanted to talk to you about that. If you remember we chatted about how black metal became appealing to people who were avant garde artists at the time, and I associate that avant-garde more with something like the New York scene, so I guess I wanted to ask why was black metal appealing to the avant-garde? Just because that was an interesting connection I had never thought of.
First of all, if you’re sort of with it in contemporary art, an intelligent band or a person who the avant-garde would even be appealing to, you're always looking for something new. There's this constant feed that seems to think that these things tend to come from the more disreputable corners of culture, and you find out that there are ways that it satisfies your desire for art in a way, And black metal had that because it had this music that had a really crazy recording texture, which was interesting in its own because it linked it a little bit more to noise music, the sort of thing Darkthrone and all those bands had which was a narrow band of white noise, which linked it to the world of Stockhausen, or along the continuum to Merzbow and things like that. But at the same time the parts they were playing through that production were actually more melodic in a sort of Bach-friendly sense, and more parsable once you've passed the harsh tones than, say, death metal. So, in a way, it was actually catchier and easier for a pop listener to absorb in a musical, melodic sense. But then through the prism of this really harsh texture, which conferred it a sort of high art connection. And on top of that, you had that veritae, reality-TV quality of the murders and all that and a sense, which rock music just like loves to have, that there's something larger than music going on, that there’s this sort of weird movement and the music is only part of it, and that confers extra magic on top of it. So it kind of had all of that stuff going for it, in addition to it being disdained almost like Pro Wrestling or something like that. So it was just a treasure trove.
I think it's a fascinating connection, which I had never thought of, and one of the reasons why I never thought of that connection is, again, because as a fan to American black metal bands, such as Krallice, it felt like everything was so fartsy, right? It felt like everything was so explicitly artistic as a statement, which is why I think the New York scene annoyed so many people, is that they felt it was so over-digested and overthought and cerebral, that for some people it lacked the primal edge black metal had when it was still a reality TV show. And so that the strain between the various scenes never prompted me to think of black metal in the Norwegian context as art. It made me feel like they don't like you, if I am to make it explicit, because you’re the ones who are turning it into art. They don't want it to be art. They wanted to be this primal thing. And you're looking at that primal thing and you're saying: “Oh, that's interesting, that's high art.” And they're saying: “No, it's this primal thing.” It felt like conflict.
And what you said just now made me think about it a little differently, which is to say that they're both versions of a very similar thing. That in the Norwegian or Scandinavian context black metal was an attempt to push people out by making something gratuitously harsh and difficult. And that to an extent maybe some of the Brooklyn bands were trying to make art very difficult also, but in a different way, maybe by making it more complicated, or cerebral.
Yeah, and I think at one point we were all sold a bill of goods when it came to black metal. But when I think about Fenriz, he’s a good example of someone who, when all that shit was going down in the 90s he sort of played the role of the satanic, misanthrope with vague pseudo-political ambitions of starting an uprising or something like that, whatever that ambiguous thing was. And then time goes by and Fenriz is this elder statesman, academic of heavy, guitar-based music who gives lectures on YouTube [laughs] on what black metal was before the Norwegian scene, so all the threads that lead there. So, clearly he was a self-conscious artist or a self-conscious maker of music. And when I say “self-conscious” I mean just conscious of all of those genres and aesthetic flavors out there and knowing exactly where his shit would fit.
I mean Darkthrone was explicit about this, it’s just that they said it in a confrontational way so it didn't come off like this really artistic program, but when they would say that A Blaze in the Northern Sky was half a real black metal album. So, they had Soulside Journey, their actual death metal album, and then they had Under a Funeral Moon, which had only “100% black metal riffs,” whereas A Blaze in the Northern Sky was somewhere “in the middle” [laughs], like “it sounded a bit like black metal, but there were still some death metal riffs,” I swear to god they said something like that [laughs]. That to me sounds like you’re really thinking about the reception and the “fitting in” in a way that kind of contradicts that primal narrative. But, I agree, it didn’t come off that way. Maybe because they were so confrontational about it.
I'd also like to just say that, with Krallice, we were not trying to put anything, any sort of markers on it that might label it as like: “Oh, this is super art,” or whatever. It really was just songs, you know? I know that that wasn't the case for, say, when you talk about Liturgy, for example, who literally made a manifestos claiming that the ways in which this was to be regarded as art, and a philosophical system and the music would fit into all that. And I will say that with Krallice there was an absolute disinterest in projecting that sort of primal “Oh there's some other extra musical quality” to the narrative. To the point that we'd be photographed for band photos just wearing our normal clothes and stuff like that. And a lot of black metal bands, here too, even if it was just a band photo, they would use pseudonyms and sort of toed that line of “We're not just regular dudes.” But for us it was more a lack of a choice. Like, why would we put work into maintaining this sort of persona.” I would hope that that would come off as the opposite of a manifesto. That was not deliberate art it was more of “No, that’s not who we are, you can just listen to the songs and take what you will from them.”
Yeah, but that’s a very American thing. The reason all the death metal bands from Florida look like, you know, military surplus hobos is because they were.
Yeah. And they're really appealing to me about really mundane personnel like that, and then the music touches this sort of cosmic heart, moments of leaving normal reality, if only briefly. That’s a goal for metal.
I agree completely and I have benchmarks in my mind just that, people who look mundane but then they do something transcendent when they start playing. And interestingly both cases I have in mind are New York bands, Helmet and Sonic Youth.
Oh man, fuck. You named two bands I don’t really know anything about. Which is to say I know about them, but I’m not very deep into their discography.
That’s cool. For me Helmet was the kind of band that would be featured in shows like the European version of Headbangers ball, and which made them stand out, for me. And the reason they stood out is because they looked like a bunch of dudes, and they looked like me – pasty dudes with ill-fitting t-shirts, just awkward. And they looked like the kind of guys who you could just push around. There was no sense of force about their persona. And then the song would start and you’re going “Okay, this is going to be a song with dudes” and then they started playing and it’s some of the heaviest riffs created by man. And I remember that moment, I was like, What the fuck just happened. And I have a lot of similar experiences with Sonic Youth that have to do specifically with the fact that, other than the fact that Sonic Youth was a band I really liked, the optics made them out to look like people who couldn't play guitar, or, conversely, people who couldn’t get out of bed. And these people who couldn't get out of bed made amazing art that was very appealing for me. So I understand, you know, the source of what you're talking about. But again, that is a very American thing. Because the European metal scene is not a place where it seems that persona is very important, even as a fan. That if you're not marked as a metal fan, by the length of your hair, and by the t shirts you wear, and by the tattoos you have visibly, then you're a poser. Just by the way you look.
And I think it's a very American thing to not care about the optics. In fact, I have another whole other theory, which no one is interested in, according to which American metal suffered when people started noticing what they were wearing. To me, I guess, it’s the visual equivalent to what you called imperfect metal or I called porous metal, right? That people are allowed to have imperfections and participate in a kind of artistic community. They can have bad taste and still be great.
Yeah, I think for me it's also just when I'm listening to the album, at home or on the go or whatever, I'm not listening to it looking at a picture of the band all the time, there’s going to be some separation. I'm just going to be listening to what the band sounds like, and that's going to be the core experience. I'm not saying it's not important, and I've definitely had experiences of bands where their music was enhanced by whatever quality was conferred by the visual presentation, in various ways. But just to say that I guess I have a sort of ideology that that stuff isn't strictly necessary. It’s a bonus, it can definitely help if the visuals are awesome, and, say, Portal’s visuals are so striking that you kind of can’t think of their music without it. So it can definitely be cool, but it’s music at the end of the day, you know, it should just be judged as an audio stream.
Right. But, again, I'm not European or American, and that seems to be a striking, or used to be, a striking characteristic of the American scene. That it's the Americans who say “It's the music.” Maybe even specifically a New York thing. Were you raised in New York?
Yeah, I’m New York all the way.
You said you got into metal later, but did that include bands that were local? Like, say, the Biohazard, Type O Negative type of thing?
No. So what happened was I lived in Chicago when I was in college, so between 2001 to around 2007 and then moved back to New York. And I got into metal only in the last year and a half or so. And I did see shows in CBGB’s and stuff, but they were all touring bands. What was funny is that there would be New York bands mixed in there, Incantation, Immolation, Suffocation, and stuff like that, but their shows at CBGB’s or at BB King’s or L'Amour their shows were kind of just the same as Opeth or just any touring band. It was all the same thing. I had no experience of a local metal scene at a level lower than doing a big tour. And I think that's just the geography, New York's really big. And I was in Manhattan and a lot of that stuff, like Biohazard and all those guys, that's a deep Brooklyn towards Coney Island phenomena or Long Island. They were far, and I didn't know those people. You know,
Do you have any feelings about that? Do you regret it? I mean, obviously, you understand why it happened.
I don't regret it because the way that things shook down was that I went away to Chicago and played as much music as I could and started a bunch of metal bands, and just did it the best that I could, I was on Craigslist, I was looking, I was doing all this shit just to play music with a decent amount of engagement and things happening and all that. And then I came back in 2007 and that's when I was talking about, about that sort of flip happening and all of the sudden it was a cool thing to be doing metal bands, and you could get shows and the blogs were writing about it, and it just seemed like all the pieces were in place. The most important piece being that there was a bunch of people, musicians, that is, who, while represenrting a lot of variety, who had a broad idea of some sort of general punk metal scene where there could be black metal bands or death metal bands and hardcore and doom and stuff like that. And they're were enough of those around that you could do a bunch of shows where, again, they weren’t all necessarily of the same style or genre, they were all basically heavy, all derived from Black Sabbath, Metallica, and the Sex Pistols, in some fashion.
So I don't regret that didn't happen in high school because I keep it as a wonderful moment when I came back and all of a sudden it was more. And I feel like Krallice was really lucky to just all find each other around that point, because just right away there were a ton of shows. Once you're playing shows and really playing in front of people it, first of all, just forces you to up your game, puts the pressure of not being embarrassed by sucking, but also feedback and really getting a sense of which parts of the music strike a chord and stuff like that. It all just really helps. It's so much harder to do art in isolation. So really I can’t complain about how things worked out. And that momentary uncertainty of why I like this thing that people were sort of down on when I was in high school, that tension was released when it all came together.
Was that setting you described also a kind of social scene? Because from the outside looking in it seemed like a lot of the stuff that was coming from that scene was coming from, I guess you could call it “like-minded people.” So Krallice doesn't sound like, say, Kayo Dot, but I would assume that Nicholas McMaster could hold a reasonable conversation with Toby driver. And Extra Life doesn't sound like Yellow Eyes or Cobalt, that was there for a moment, but you can see how those people could get along and create a sense of a cohesive scene.
I know what you’re saying and the way I would put it is, yeah, there wasn't a New York “sound” – and also this wasn't everybody in the metal scene. There were definitely people playing bands that I was interacting with around this time period that were a little bit more like: “No, I just really like Bolt Thrower and that’s my thing” – but in terms of Kayo Dot and that whole side of things, I realized at a certain point that I would be a part of this community, or a subset of a community that itself was quite large and had a lot of people who were doing a lot of things, that we all agreed on a couple of tenants and one of those was that “weird metal,” like Gorguts, for instance, was just as good weird good classical music, like Schönberg and stuff like, that it was just as good as like weird, good electronic music like Aphex Twin.
But there was no tribalism, just that these were heights of achievements that we can be drawn from. For some people it was goth stuff, like Dead can Dance and Cocteau Twins and things like that, you know what I mean? Just a generalized: “Oh yeah, this is great, and that is great and this is great, and that is great. And so you might have people making free jazz because that was that side of jazz that was weird, like Anthony Braxton. So some people choose to express themselves that way, and some choose to create classical music like Mario Diaz de Leon, or choose to express themselves through metal that is either basically kind of just metal, which is basically what Krallice is, or something like Kayo Dot, which is metal with more overt classical influences. But I definitely agree with you, if felt like a really broad similarity, just in the way I just described.
Yeah, it does have to be quite broad, even considering the fact that all the bands we just mentioned here are radically different from one another, but maybe not as broad since all these bands are all outsiders to the mainstream metal scene.
And, conversely, it’s still very possible to find plenty of metal fans who do not want to hear about classical music, and plenty of classical music people who do not want to hear about the heights achieved by metal bands [laughs]. So, yeah, it’s something I've come to take for granted because I've been in the mix for a long time, but sometimes I have situations, when we go play festivals or something like that and I'm just “Oh, whoa, right, we have a very different idea of what this is” [laughs].
[Laughs] Yeah, I can imagine Krallice walking the grounds at Wacken and feeling that gap.
I wanted to ask you at least one question about Years Past Matter, because that's officially why we're here. And one of the reasons I wanted to talk about that specific album was because I, perhaps mistakenly, thought it felt different. And one of the things that made it different – and I'm not necessarily speaking in terms of what came before it, because I think the albums that came before Years Past Matter and Years Past Matter, they have differences obviously, but they have kind of a general similarity and sound in that, to me, being the person who's already heard the Krallice that comes after that, they sound a lot more riffy, for a lack of a better term. And at some point after Years Past Matter it became a little more abstract. This is not a value judgment, but I felt like the the EP you made with Dave Edwardson was very reminiscent of that aggressive sound. So being that this is my personal delusion regarding Years Past Matter, I guess I wanted to ask if you remember anything distinct about making that album?
I don't actually agree with everything you just said, but I'll just restate the part that I do agree with, which is that the first four albums sort of have broad similarities across each other. And the reason for that, in my opinion, is because a lot of that material came from sort of blasts of writing between Colin [Marston] and Mick of just establishing the sort of basic structures and an overall parts of the songs on the guitar, that was a relatively short period of time. So from 2007 to 2009 they were just on fire with the writing, and they would write so much that the songs might kind of get out of order in terms of when we arranged them. So for example, the song “The Clearing” on Diotima is actually older than some of the songs on Dimensional Bleedthrough. I remember getting a demo of six songs from Mick and it had songs that were all just his solo guitar, but it was sort of a full song structure. And those songs were spread out over Dimensional Bleedthrough and Diotima. And that, I think, adds to cohesiveness since they all have that quality that can be dated back to a specific time. And also, to use an outer space metaphor, like when you have a supernova or whatever, and it blasts all the primal protoplasmic atomic material out, and then over time that sort of coagulates and forms planets, and star systems, then it was kind of like that – there was this boom of creation between those guys.
And so the other part of that, the thing that actually resulted with the songs, with the four of us working on decidable tasks of arranging the songs, because they began as one-guitar demos of either Colin’s or Mick’s guitar, and we learned how to work in them, and we tried a variety of approaches. So the thing that's unique about Years Past Matter is that that was sort of the end of that period. Some of those songs were a little older than the initial burst, but they had been written while we were working on arranging that earlier stuff so there was still a lot of that cohesion. But we had already done it three times, it felt like I had a sensation of: “Oh, these are these kinds of songs, this kind of material, and we know how to arrange them and get them together and record them and stuff. And so we're just comfortable enough that we're not going to self-consciously tweak the formula, so to speak, so I felt that we were able to do the best job. Both Diotima and Dimensional Bleedthrough were slightly dicier recording in terms of when it came down to play the songs, a lot more starting over and working and thinking” Oh, this isn't good, and what can we do address that stuff?” In Years Past Matter we kind of had the whole thing down. And that was also when we started tracking all-the-way live. We hadn't started doing it then, but we did the whole record in a session like that just more seamlessly. Most of the songs except the last song were just one day and then the next day was that really long last song. It led to what I think is kind of objectively the statement or execution of whatever those concepts are that animated all of that. And so it was the pinnacle for that but also the point after which to do it again self consciously would have been a stagnation.
So the difference between that album and everything that came after it is also a self-conscious style change that came with a much greater need on writing new material, because stuff before that was, to an extent, constructed or mapped out?
Kind of, although this stuff was all happening gradually. There was probably some material that was in Ygg Huur that was already sort of written when we were recording Years Past Matter but…. I mean, we had already sort of self-consciously talked about “going death metal,” which just meant to us embracing the style change, and that happens on Ygg Huur where everything is a lot shorter, more condensed, more palm mute and less tremolo [laughs]. It was something that we thought would be fun to explore once we work through the mountain of material that already existed that had these more pronounced black metal influences.
I remember being shocked by Ygg Huur, because it came out of nowhere for me. Maybe because the sense of cohesion before it, but it felt so foreign. I think I was scared off by that, and I don't think I’ve heard it since. Maybe I should revisit it.
Most of our material is challenging but that album is probably the most challenging so it’s cool for me to listen to that and listen to live recordings or watch YouTube videos of our performances from that time. It’s kind of like watching yourself do some gymnastics that you can’t really do anymore [laughs].
[Laughs] Maybe like appreciating your old self.
Yeah, like: “Whoa, those fingers are moving fast! Are we that good anymore?”
[Laughs] I'm coming full circle, which is what you're supposed to do when you're an idiot, but when you were going over the remasters you mentioned it in the beginning of our conversation, and you felt like you were looking at the band you used to be kind of in a way. So is everything you're saying right now is that also a result of that reflection, that you got to listen to these four albums again and get to maybe re-experience their cohesion, or is that cohesion something you felt at the time?
I felt it at the time because, again, it wasn't like a qualitative judgment from listening to the product and thinking that they shared elements but more like knowing all the way through that album two and three were sort of broken out from the same initial pool of songs and stuff like that. I would just like to say that all those critical things that I can verbalize, none of that stuff was new there was no giant realization of sort from going back and listening to those albums after we remastered them and put them out. Listening to those just gave me a sense of that this is what happens when it’s far enough away from me remembering what it was like to physically do it that I can experience it as someone else's music, and I'm much more open to the textural sense of it. That the part where it just sounds like somebody else’s band. Things like: “Oh, they chose this production, and the guitar sounds like this, that’s interesting.” Having those moments but also knowing it’s us the whole time, but not remembering it in the first person.
One of the recurring themes of some of the conversations that I've been having goes something like “older albums aren't me anymore.” But you could also kind of look at those works and say: “Oh, I was like that, that was me 10 years ago.” And then you can actually remember yourself being that way. And, in a way, look back at your discography, your catalogue and see those moments and if you documented yourself truthfully or artistically, then it turns out you can look back at these crystallized moments of reflection, memory, awareness of passing time, of change.
I would put it like, because I’ve experienced this back and forth where I'm “Oh wow this doesn’t sound like me, this sounds like a different person” or “It kind of sounds like me, it could be me, but it could be anyone else.” And then you remember specific things and that there was a rationale for this or for that. It’s just kind of funny. But, yeah, I agree with that observation.