By: Adrien Begrand Posted in: featuredOn: Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
Extreme metal bands withholding lyrics is commonplace, something we writers have learned to constantly deal with, to the point now that even though we’re never given the complete album experience, it’s pretty much taken for granted that we have to give readers an even and thorough assessment of a record even though we have literally no idea what so many of these bands are screeching and hollering about. When bands withhold lyrics from the actual album that’s released, however, it always strikes me as particularly odd.
Extremity in metal includes lyrical topics, and in black metal the level of introspection and cathartic anguish in lyrics is commonplace, but at the same time, for a genre so bent on strength and bravado, ironically there’s a strong sense of insecurity when an artist refuses to print the lyrics to his or her songs. The fact that they’re screaming these words in a manner that’s impossible to comprehend what’s being said serves the same purpose as a security blanket: they’re emoting, baring their soul, but keeping audiences at an arm’s length. In a way that refusal to go all-in defeats the purpose of metal music. Metal is supposed to be an all-or-nothing genre, is it not?
Besides, what these metal bands are doing is nothing new at all; “dark night of the soul” songs and albums have been a huge part of popular music for eons. If Sinatra, Dylan, Nick Drake, Willie Nelson, Fleetwood Mac, Springsteen, Tori Amos, Beck, even Bon Iver have the guts to engage in such a public form of bloodletting, why don’t some extreme metal artists show similar courage? Yes, those songs mean a lot to you and represent truly painful moments in your life, but if those people went all-in, 100 percent, on a much more public stage, why can’t you do the same to the couple thousand that will buy your album? Instead, they scream away, emoting yet never fully communicating. Yes, part of the appeal of the music is to hear that anguish in those tortured screams, but to do so without providing lyrics feels like a cop-out, an easy way out to avoid confronting what people have to say about your art. Diffidence masked as “enigmatic”.
Anyway, those thoughts ran through my mind as I took in the latest album by Austin Lunn’s black metal project Panopticon, which, as you might have guessed, will not come with any lyrics. Which is perfectly fine, I’ve been dealing with that shtick for so long that it’s water off a duck’s back. And besides, Lunn is such a supreme talent that it’s easy to focus on the music of Panopticon, which is consistently a cut above all black metal coming out of America these days. 2012’s Kentucky was the most inventive American extreme metal album since Cobalt’s Gin three years earlier, a watershed moment that saw Lunn combining raw, melodic black metal with bluegrass and folk music and themes that delved into the cultural history of the region, and the way he made something so incongruous feel so seamless, so unabashedly soulful, was a marvel.
Although the follow-up Roads to the North (Bindrune) offers no new invention, simply following the same rustic path as Kentucky, it further refines that sound to the point where listeners are just thrilled to hear Lunn combine those two sides of his artistic persona so vividly. This time around, the sound is expanded in graceful fashion, most beautifully on the three-part suite “The Longest Road”, which serves as the album’s centerpiece. Over the course of nearly 20 minutes the music ebbs and flows gracefully between bluegrass, black metal, and even progressive metal, the harshness of acoustic folk and blasting extremity giving way to more contemplative, ambient moments reminiscent of Isis and Godspeed You! Black Emperor and more gothic, “blackened doom” moments reminiscent of Woods of Ypres. The composition, the musical aspect of it anyway, is a masterstroke by Lunn, produced beautifully by the great Colin Marston.
Bookended by tracks that also rank among Lunn’s very finest work, including the epics “Where Mountains Pierce the Sky” and “Chase the Grain”, Roads to the North might not feel as groundbreaking as the Harlan County USA-inspired Kentucky did, but it proves the last record was no novelty, but rather another sublime and powerful statement by a vital artist. However, if Lunn, who is an undeniably eloquent lyricist, ever makes these new lyrics available for all to see, this album will feel even more towering than it already does. There’s no shame in giving your listeners the complete, unfettered package. If Frank was still around he’d tell some extreme metalers to man the hell up.
Here’s what’s also out this week.
Abolition A.D., After Death Before Chaos (Pulverised): Hailing from Singapore, this band’s debut album is a very adept blend of sludge, doom, and crust punk, the variation in tempo making for some very effective variety. Black Breath one minute, St. Vitus the next, Asphyx the next. Robust and very disciplined, and not above tossing a little melody in here and there, this is well worth checking out. Preview and purchase via Bandcamp.
AOV, Act of Violence (Inverse): This Finnish band focuses on the more modern, “extreme” form of thrash, integrating elements of death metal into the arrangements, and nails it on this very surprising debut. As strong as the faster moments are on the album, the real strength lies in the more mid-paced material like “Surrounded By Concrete”, which is built around some very robust rhythm guitar riffs and fluid, Testament-style grooves. It’s a fresh, energetic take on a familiar formula, and deserves to be heard.
Device, Device (self-released): My weakness for bands that replicate that brief period of Canadian melodic heavy metal from 1982 to 1986 borders on obsession, but I can’t help it, when I hear bands that capture that quirky Banzai/Attic-era sound, my ears perk up. Vancouver band Device – not to be confused with David Draiman’s alt-metal side project – capture that sound well on this fun debut. Stylistically it runs the gamut from UFO worship (“Don’t Mess With Texas”) to NWOBHM co-option (“Lost My Soul”) to speed metal (“Enemy’s Blood”) to more progressive doom material (“The Devil and the Shoemaker”), but the trio does a good job keeping it all from flying off the handle, with bassist Marc LeBlanc providing great melodic vocals punctuated by some truly hair-raising screams. Fans of classic heavy metal will get a big charge out of this. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.
Fungonewrong, Fungonewrong (Legend Group): Give this knuckle-dragging nu-metal band credit, it actually sounds like all they’ve ever heard are Limp Bizkit and Slipknot albums, and if anything their music faithfully adheres to that sound. An hey, they even have a silly ‘90s metal gimmick too, although wearing paper bags on your head is clearly scraping the bottom of that barrel.
Invidiosus, Malignant Universe (Tridroid): This death/grind hybrid is plenty intense and intricate, but it’s a testament to this Minnesota band’s smarts that the songs are always mindful of the fact that you’ve got to have a hook, and there are some sneaky ones on this debut. This is a record fans of The Black Dahlia Murder and that ilk should check out. Besides, any album that includes a sample from Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist is fine by me.
Sacrificio, Sacrificio (Iron Bonehead): The Spanish band’s debut album bored me to tears, that is until the aptly titled song “Sacrificio” came on, an absolutely wicked blast of Venom/Sarcofago filth, featuring a nasty groove that grabs you immediately and keeps you riveted. Sadly the rest of the album immediately reverts to sloppy, chaotic death metal, devoid of personality and competence. But at least we had those nice few minutes, I guess, metal band and critic passing each other like two ships in the night.
Taatsi, Amidst the Trees (Forever Plagued): Repetitive, hypnotic atmospheric black metal from Finland, keyboards and guitar duking it out atop drum machine, plenty of forest and fog evocation, mournful melodies, the odd acoustic interlude, silly troll-sounding vocals. Neither bracing nor haunting. Just there, the ennui fading only on the superb last track “Hunts in the Night’s Mind”, a fleeting glimpse of what might’ve been.
Unbreakable, Knockout (Dark Star): These preening, camera-mugging German kids come across as goofy in their video, but the music is a very surprising, not to mention deft co-option of that early-‘80s Scorpions AOR sound, with simple, polite guitar riffs accentuated by exceptionally strong vocal melodies. Unlike The Darkness, who did it all with a wink, Unbreakable is straight-faced on mild, pleasant rockers like “Rock the Nightlife” and power ballads like “Come Back to Me”, producer Herman Rarebell (that’s right, the old Scorps drummer) doing a very good job keeping this album sonically and musically consistent. The novelty of “Crazy Cat Lady” aside, this is quite a pleasant surprise.
Not metal, but worth hearing:
The Muffs, Whoop Dee Doo (Cherry Red/Burger): For those too young to remember, The Muffs were one of those early-‘90s major label powerpop/punk curiosities from back in the Alternative Nation day, led by the irrepressible singer-songwriter Kim Shattuck. Responsible for such whimsical little tunes as “Lucky Guy”, “Everywhere I Go”, and “Sad Tomorrow”, The Muffs never set the music world on fire, but they could always be counted on for a good album loaded with witty pop tunes. The band had been dormant, new music-wise, for the past decade, with Shattuck briefly returning to the public eye last year during her ill-fated stint with the Pixies, but The Muffs’ spirited sixth album is a wonderful return to the form of 20 years ago, “Like You Don’t See Me”, “Take a Take a Me”, and “Cheezy” leading the way with their Beatles-esque rock ‘n’ roll, Shattuck’s inebriated-sounding snarl lending the music that distinct charm so many of us know so well, not realizing how much we missed it.
Misery Index is no stranger to these playlists. In fact, we were in the midst of winter 2013 when bassist/vocalist Jason Netherton regaled us with “bleak tunes that recall those snowbound blizzards from yesteryear.” This time around, guitarist Mark Kloeppel went in a totally different direction to get you in the know about “hard” jams. We’ll let him take things from here: “‘Hard’ is a special set of subtly nuanced cross-genre aesthetic characteristics within extreme music that may be a little elusive to the untrained ear. Basically, we are talking about ignorant, pounding grooves that might make you want to destroy a room or get in a street fight.” Still curious? Check out the 10 tunes below. Just know that Kloeppel’s not the first to make a Wendy’s reference around these parts — that’s how hard we roll at the Deciblog.
After perusing his selections, you can pick up a copy of Misery Index’s fifth full-length, The Killing Gods, here.
Rattenfänger’s “Clausae Patent” (from 2012′s Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum)
Hardest shit ever! Rattenfänger, a side project of our label mates Drudkh, is quintessentially “hard”. Being hard is a subtle thing, as the music evokes in the listener a notion that talented musicians are utilizing a kind of elective ignorance as a purposive composition method. Listen to how the “thrash” beat mid-song sounds just a little to slow. That would be a big no-no for a band attempting to use a beat like that for its original purpose. To play a fast style beat too slow, in this case, is purposive ignorance. Now that is hard!
Goatwhore’s “FBS” (from 2014′s Constricting Rage Of The Merciless)
Goatwhore? More like GoatwHARD. Bands have influences, and Goatwhore’s influence is Celtic Frost, unabashedly deathrolling Warrior after Warrior-style riff. [Guitarist] Sammy [Duet] just doesn’t give a F, and not giving a F is what being hard is all about. That’s not to say Sammy doesn’t have his own style. That dude has written the most rocking riffs I can remember, and his style is distinct. But the Frost is strong in this one, as is the Priest. I digress. On a song with a title like this, you might expect the meaning of the FBS acronym to be repeatedly rammed down your god-fearing throat. Nope. [Vocalist Ben] Falgoust only gives it to you one time mid-song. Hard!
Portal’s “Curtain” (from 2013′s Vexovoid)
Ah, Portal…the big “F you” to computer-perfect precise death metal. It’s almost as if the song was written for the video, which sets nice imagery to visually imagine their other songs. By totally ignoring any sort of trendy standard, these fellas put the clock faces and robes on and put the darkness in you…hard!
Hate Eternal’s “I, Monarch” (from 2005′s I, Monarch)
[Erik] Rutan [guitarist/vocalist] is no slouch. But what does one do when he’s already conquered the throne of the king of all kings? Punch you in the face with tyrannical, narcissistic rage, that’s what! Hate Eternal has put out great tunes before and since this record. For me, this one just happens to be the hardest!
Fulgora’s “Risen” (from 2013′s Risen/Artifice EP)
Better go to Wendy’s and get yourself a Frosty, because you’re going to need it after a track this hard! For me, it’s like VOD went deathgrind. I don’t include Fulgora because our drummer Adam [Jarvis] happens to be in the band. Rather, the riffs these dudes are churning out are next level. This is legit harshcore!
Xibalba’s “Cold” (from 2012′s Hasta La Muerte)
In a world of hipster-djenty-quirky-vegan-douchey “metal”, it’s refreshing to see a band slam liquor and pork chops and then bring the pound cakes. Thank you Xibalba…for being hard!
Dying Fetus’s “Subjected To A Beating” (from 2012′s Reign Supreme)
If you were to sit down with [vocalist/guitarist] John Gallagher for five minutes with a guitar, he would proceed to write more pummeling catchy riffs than you could in five years. This song and album is right up there with the “classic” material. And yeah, I did do some vocals on this track, but that’s not why it’s on the list. It’s on the list for riff número uno in the song. So hard!
Magrudergrind’s “Bridge Burner” (from 2009′s Magrudergrind)
I don’t think you can get much harder than “Bridge Burner”. The main riff is like getting curbed over and over again. I was a little bummed when [drummer] Chris [Moore] left this band. Those chops! That groove! That über-funked-in-the-pocket blast! I thought it was going to be all over. But the dudes pressed on strong, and still bring the pound cakes and the super grind…hard! Definitely your new favorite band, if they aren’t already.
Infestdead’s “JesuSatan” (from 1999′s JesuSatan)
The end of this song makes me want to punch every pony at the petting zoo. This is a drum machine project Dan Swanö used to figure out how to use a Mac to record for the first time. The riffs are spontaneous and pummeling. This is my absolute favorite record from Dan. Every single riff is catchy, rife with ignorance, and, most importantly…hard.
Machine Head’s “Davidian” (from 1994′s Burn My Eyes)
Don’t you even start to talk shit right now. I know, the same guy that was in Vio-lence could be seen sporting a scencester sideways cap and bandana like in some alternative monthly, and uniform code metal attire in your typical Euro metal mag in the same month. I know. Let’s not even begin to talk about the “Red” album or how this video looks for that matter. Victim of the times, victim of the times. This song, though…you cannot tell me, for one instant, that when you hear “Let freedom ring with a shotgun blast” that you don’t want to punch the person standing next you. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s hard.
So, class, hopefully you have a better understanding of what “hard” is all about. Then again, maybe you don’t. Either way, go support your local record shop, and pick up some hard jams. Might I suggest Misery Index’s The Killing Gods be your first choice. Shameless plug. Go hard or go home.
** Germany’s Dark Fortress have plied black metal’s murky, obsidian-colored waters for the better part of 20 years. In that time, they’ve crafted seven full-length, all of which have gone on to acclaim and recognition. Unlike most bands, Dark Fortress haven’t played it easy across their varied discography. They’ve experimented, tried new ways to mold the dark into their own visage, and have, largely, come out the other end an eviler, cleverer entity. This plays into new full-length Venereal Dawn. Easily the group’s most accomplished album, Venereal Dawn fits somewhere between Mayhem, Triptykon—guitarist V. Santura is a contributing member—, and, well, Dark Fortress.
Twenty years? What does that mean to Dark Fortress having survived for two decades? Morean: It just shows how old and how stubborn we are. I guess it’s in our Bavarian blood to hang on to things. V. Santura: This is a difficult question and maybe I wouldn’t emphasize the fact that we already exist since 20 years too much, makes us look older than we actually are. Asvargr founded the band back then with our old vocalist Azathoth and from the early days it is only Asvargr left in the band. So, for us others the band feels younger, but it speaks for our stamina, idealism (and yes) stubbornness that we are still around. And also that we still really enjoy this band.
How is Dark Fortress a different band now than you were in 2001 on the Tales from Eternal Dusk full-length? V. Santura: After the recordings for Tales…, which took place in summer 2000, there was a major turning point in the band, because within a few months with Seraph, Draug and myself three new members joined the band. Since then this “second” line-up of Dark Fortress proved to be very stable with the exception that Azathoth and Dark Fortress parted ways in 2007, but Morean established himself extremely quickly as the new face and frontman of the band. I couldn’t imagine Dark Fortress without him now, and it is almost seven years now and three albums together. Of course, the “daily routine” of the band also changed a lot since 2001. Back then we were all living in the same area, rehearsed regularly once or twice a week, arranged a lot of songs together and were still a rather unknown band in the underground. Now, one third of the band lives in the Netherlands, so regular weekly rehearsing is impossible nowadays, so when we get together it is always for special purposes, but then it is super intense.
Venereal Dawn is quite an album title. Tell us where it first came to Dark Fortress and what it means. Morean: I was ready to start writing my concept and lyrics in 2011. Traveling in Mexico, I was reading Stephen R. Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever again at the time, and was fascinated by the idea of sunlight becoming something that actively and drastically twists and mutates the world. Simultaneously, the ancient lands of Oaxaca and the mind-boggling skies over it that particular day left me spiritually impressed and inspired; something got triggered in my mind and I started seeing scenes like from a movie, heard music, there came a story, images… It had nothing to do with Mexico and not even with Donaldson too much, but sometimes there is this moment that you know something wants to create itself. It can be quite unstoppable. “Venereal Dawn” and “Betrayal And Vengeance” came as titles to me that very moment. We had about 10 good options at the end how we’d call the album, and funny that it came back to the very first words I had written for it. “Venereal” originally just means “pertaining to Venus”, but in daily use it has another connotation: Venus is the goddess of love and beauty, very seductive and elevated, but in reality it is a hellish planet where nothing from this earth can survive. In the term “venereal disease”, it implies a disease that consumes you from the inside. We thought “Venereal Dawn” is an apt title for the similarly two-sided story of this album.
It’s a concept album in nine chapters. Tell us about the concept. Morean: It centers around the idea of living light; the confrontation of our world with beings whose body is mere quantum quivering, but who possess sentience, intelligence and a long history. The scenario is that the sun has acquired a new character which deforms and perverts all life on the planet. The only way people can protect themselves fleetingly is to anoint their skin with living blood. This has brought down civilization. The protagonist is one of those human sacrifices left to be devoured by those beings. Halfway through the album, the focus shifts from the outside world to internal experience. The story of his and mankind’s demise and transfiguration becomes one of deep spiritual upheaval and catharsis, to the backdrop of a grotesque and extremely hostile world. I’m not sure why I can’t seem to avoid those two elements, dying worlds and spiritual transformation. In that sense the departure point might be similar to other albums we made. However, this time I was interested in the human implications of going through such a process. In a way, the external story is just the images my particular mind created around what I felt when I delved into my own abyss and astral adventures when writing the words. In that sense I hope the album is more than just a story; the emotions and visions we put into it are very real, and left me rather shaken at times. So it’s not just science fiction; I see it as a morbid parabola on things hidden deep inside us.
Was there a particular magic moment—something that said, “Yes! This is our path forward”—for the band while writing Venereal Dawn? Morean: I guess the song writing session in January 2013 was what finally broke the dam. We had a bunch of loose songs before that, but somehow it always struggled to find a center. We got together every day for a week, everybody bringing their ideas to the table. Then Santura and Seraph jammed out Santura’s ideas in a few intense sessions spread over months, and all of a sudden there was too much stuff! Santura has these periods, when the world leaves him alone for just a little while, that all of a sudden you get five mp3s and there is an album on the table… and suddenly it’s rolling.
You’ve spoken about the album writing process. How’d you finally find time to put it all together? Morean: Santura has a lot to say about this, I guess. In fact, we worked on it whenever we could in the last three years, many hours went into this album. But the crunch time, once recordings started, was a combination of comparing agendas (and despairing), and Santura finding the time, since he was busy with it full time for months on end. We were annoyed of course that we had to postpone the release again, from early to later 2014, but it was good that we had some time for the finishing touches after Santura delivered the new Triptykon album. Once again, the devil is in the details in this one. V. Santura: I don’t have to add much to Morean’s explanations here actually. After those songwriting sessions in January 2013 it was clear to me that we would be able to record a complete album somewhere in 2013, because we broke the levee creatively. In the next few months I kept on working on further ideas and had some jam and arranging sessions especially with Seraph and Asvargr, so we decided to produce the album in October and November. The original plan was to record and also mix and master the album within those two months. Usually this should be more than sufficient, but especially during the guitar recordings I got lost in my own world and again I was simultaneously rehearsing with Triptykon for Melana Chasmata. Towards the end of November we basically had everything recorded but I had to admit that I just couldn’t pull of the mix anymore at that time. So we had to cancel our first deadline and postpone the mix for a while until I was finally having time and energy for this again. It sucked that we had to postpone the album, but in the end it was the only right decision, so I could put as much time and love for details into it as I wanted and this way I am super satisfied and happy with the final result. I think I was only once about that satisfied with a Dark Fortress album directly after it was finished.
Dark Fortress are known for doing different cover songs. Katatonia and Angelo Badalamenti. Any covers on Venereal Dawn? Morean: Not on the album, but we did record a cover of Shining’s “Besvikelsens Dystra Monotoni” a few years ago, which is now floating around in our ether with the other songs we wrote and recorded for the album. So, we hope to be able to release an EP with more material not too long after Venereal Dawn.
How was the studio experience this time around? I gather there was a lot of soul searching given time and professional constraints. Morean: I don’t know how Santura doesn’t go crazy during his months of production, but I always enjoy screaming at him for hours on end. [Laughs] It felt it took forever, and we kept re-doing and tweaking the smallest details till the last second. But I enjoyed every moment, we had deep conversations and good food, and time to really focus. It was extremely exciting to witness these songs coming to life. V. Santura: Well, I was running out of time and energy during the first mix (as described before) and I got too fucking self-critical with the guitar recordings at a certain time which was a little counterproductive, but other than that the studio sessions were great. This time we used an external studio with a big room for the drum recordings and this was a really interesting experience. It was our explicit aim to achieve a very natural, but still aggressive drum sound. I know, it is kind of en vogue to sound like a ’70s band nowadays, and the other extreme is to have totally quantized, triggered-to-death plastic drums. Personally, I don’t like either of these extremes and we tried to achieve a good compromise between a natural classic rock and a modern metal production. Also, every song in the album has its very own identity and so each song had to be treated very differently the way it was recorded, produced and mixed. Also, we never put so much time in the vocal recordings and arrangements and I think you can hear that. The most important thing to me was to capture the emotions that are within the songs in the right way and emphasize them.
Name five German black metal bands—other than yourselves—that deserve a name drop. Morean: Haradwaith, Farsot, Secrets Of The Moon, Eudaimony, Lunar Aurora. V. Santura: Ascension, Secrets of the Moon, Sonic Reign, Katharsis, Farsot
What is black metal to Dark Fortress? Morean: The musical expression of emotional abysses. V. Santura: The musical expression of emotional abysses. P.S. Is Dark Fortress still black metal? Or are we far beyond that?
** Dark Fortress’ new album, Venereal Dawn, is out September 1st on Century Media Records. Pre-orders are not yet available, but click this link (HERE) to get back catalog titles like Ylem and Eidolon.
One of the most distinct memories I have pertaining to Milwaukee black metal outfit Shroud of Despondency is as follows: the scene was February 2011, Clearwater Beach, Florida. My wife, kid and I were in the midst of our annual pilgrimage down south in order to escape the depressing, bone-chilling cold of another southern Ontario winter and because metal and deadlines never stop, even when you’re away and on vacation, I brought along a bit of work to dust off. “Work” is a bit of a misnomer though; most people wouldn’t call sitting by a hotel pool or on the beach, basking in the sun while listening to various new releases and jotting down a few hundred words on the matters at hand, work. Tough life, I know. My parents are still mystified at how I make a living. Hell, so am I!
Anyhow, after spinning their then-latest release, Dark Meditations in Monastic Seclusion, and doing a bit of research into their backstory, I remember thinking to myself – and writing for the rest of the world to see – about how odd it was that this band, aside from help with PR, was still virtually independent and remained unsigned. Now, I’m not the biggest black metal fan around, but having been in this game long enough and having been exposed to as much of everything as I have been in my travels, it’s not hard to pick out who’s delivering quality goods and who’s gussied up in corpse paint and singing in Norwegian despite hailing from Topeka, if you catch my drift.
That was over three years ago and in the world of Shroud of Despondency, that was three full-lengths, two live albums, two demos and two split EPs ago. When the band’s latest album, the double-disc set, Tied to a Dying Animal turned up in my mailbox and I noticed that the band was still unsigned, well, I continued to be flabbergasted. In these bespectacled eyes, Shroud has always struck a fine balance between black metal’s esoteric and progressive bookends; in addition to the skin-searing atonality and machine gun riffing inherent to the genre, the band has made it a commonality to include tasteful strains of classical, Americana and folk, not to mention thrash, doom and death metal, in their sound. Basically, I was amazed they still hadn’t had someone’s dotted line thrust in front of their faces, especially in light of 1) the black metal genre’s historical open-armed acceptance of everyone from Emperor and Vattnet Viskar to Abruptum and Panopticon, and 2) the shitloads of crap out there that gets passed off as “essential listening.”
At first, I thought it was maybe the band themselves fiercely holding on to their independence. Maybe they didn’t want to sign their lives away and were actively attempting to avoid becoming a casualty of the business? Or maybe it was because they wanted to keep the band as an artistic, albeit extremely prolific, hobby? Or maybe they were just the types who forsook any amount of the business side of things because they’d rather smoke bowls and jam out? Or maybe they’re just lazy as fuck? I was assured by various sources that none of the above was the answer, though the assumption was that the answer lay somewhere in the middle (except for the smoking bowls and being lazy part – I made that shit up). I mean, this music thing is so subjective; there’s no accounting for taste across the board – I’m sure there’s some asshat out there somewhere who will dismissively tell you he thinks Master of Puppets is just “all right” – and I realise that just because I find merit and value in something doesn’t mean the world at large will fall in line, but I remain amazed that this band’s name isn’t on more people’s radars. So, I tracked down mainman, guitarist Rory Heikkila and asked for a little background and his assessment of the situation.
“After several years of working on other projects, some metal and some folk/indie rock, I decided in 2010 to again start recording as Shroud of Despondency. Recently, I was approached with the idea of writing about the history of the band, my dealings with labels, my work habits, and overall determination as an underground artist. This invitation is both humbling and irritating, but overall something I feel is both deserved and necessary. I’m not sure a ‘typical’ metal artist is something that exists and I’m sure I’m not a ‘typical’ anything, but I do have an everlasting love of, and obsession with, heavy metal so the idea of getting to talk about my band in the this format is kind of cool considering the overall feeling I’ve gotten from friends, fans, and family is that the project is, for whatever reason, emotive and purposeful enough to be recognized as valid by people who release music.
“Shroud of Despondency was created in the mid/late 90’s as a means of coping with the suicide of a close friend, an experience even this grumpy old nihilist wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy, and the overall feeling that being a ‘metalhead’ in Upper Michigan was a relatively solitary adventure (hence the initial one man band aspect of the project). After a demo, 2002 saw the release of For Eternity Brings No Hope, release on Bindrune Recordings. If asked to speak of my dealings with labels I have nothing bad to say about Bindrune. The only regret is I was probably a bit too tripped out and young to recognize how fucking cool of an opportunity it was. I get asked a lot why they didn’t release more and I really don’t know and I’m not much of a person who dwells. To this day they release some of the best music.
“I recorded two follow ups, Forced to Wander into Nothing and Fairytales from the Tunnel of Puke, that only saw the light of day through CD-R trading. Again, tripped out. Overall, today, I’m glad I didn’t care because certain aspects of the albums are just atrocious. I feel this in spite of the compliments I get from those weird enough to tolerate insanely loud yelp-y vocals on top of under-produced, and occasionally poorly written, black metal songs. The same fate existed for the split with Algol on Paragon Records, although I like those songs a lot, and sessions I recorded for two other splits. No regrets. Heavy metal is littered with DIY artists who have worked for insane amounts of time to prove their worth and passion and that is, honestly, part of the appeal of the genre. The spirit is, even with all the sheepish posturing, that of the individual and I most definitely consider myself an individual.
“Not that a person can ever truly get over the losing of friendship to mental illness, particularly a person already hardened by feelings of alienation, but after all that it was time to grow. So I moved on. I honed my guitar playing, shredded some pretty hilarious tech-death metal, and then some folk/indie rock projects to honor my mother’s wish to hear me sing. Fuck you. As rough as it sounds to you, she loves it. The tensions of everyday life have a way of building up inside a person and in 2010 I decided it was in the best interest of my psyche to record as Shroud of Despondency again. Obective:Isolation was recorded. It definitely felt great to record honest and dark music again, but I also knew that Milwaukee had a great underground scene that I was interested in being a part of. A lot of you people don’t know this yet but Milwaukee has an insane amount of good bands.
“Dark Mediations in Monastic Seclusion was the first full length with a full line-up and Pine followed a year later. There were also a ton of local shows with kick ass bands thanks, mostly, to local promoter Jason Ellis. Choosing to promote the album through Clawhammer PR turned out to be a good decision. Both albums got many favorable reviews and I’m immensely proud of them, the live EP’s and the live shows. However, I will admit that this is the time a certain amount of bitterness started to show itself. “So and so (insert shitty opinion on supposed shitty band) is on such and such label and I have no spare money because I want to release music.” Boo-fucking-hoo right?
“Staying true to my work patterns, writing for the next album began before we had even released Pine. A double album, Tied to a Dying Animal was released in 2014 and is an album I fear, try as I might, I may never top. The rest of this doesn’t read ‘I’m stopping.’ I’ll definitely try. I’ll try until I’m dead or physically incapable of writing music. It’s the most accomplished metal material under the name and the most accomplished acoustic/instrumental material. It is the most sincere, dark, personal, and expensive album I’ve ever recorded. All with the bizarre muse of Martin Scorsese films. I love it. As a bonus, I feel it’s done exceptionally well locally and beyond thanks again to Clawhammer. The list of pretty kick ass bands we got to play with is pretty big and it helped create more memories, but the recording process left everyone a bit burned out. I’m admittedly a difficult person to work with when it comes to music. There isn’t too much room for other visionaries in Shroud of Despondency and I was most definitely lucky to have worked with as many visionaries as I did, so we are kind of either on hiatus or reworking a line-up right now. Check out some live clips on YouTube though. We killed it. Then go to bandcamp and work your way back from Tied to a Dying Animal.
“I’ve touched upon the history of this project in probably too many words and hopefully did not come off as bitter. I can say I am not bitter because of my understanding of what music is. To me music/art is something that transcends the idea of culture as it represents the thoughts, feelings, repressions, and philosophy of whatever neurotic flesh oddity is creating it. There is no need to blame because there is no one to blame for supposed ‘artistic short comings’ because the feeling of satisfaction that creating gives me, no matter how imperfect the creation might be, is bigger than any praise or criticism that can be rifled at me by a species who lives to critique others. I critique myself through writing and I am a stronger man because of it. I can get up every day and attempt a normal, sometimes merry and sometimes contemplative, life because I know I have a place to put whatever horror should arise. I do my job as an artist without being a quitter in life. Fuck the rest.
“So, yes, I’d like to stop spending large amounts of money on my music, but I most definitely would not be the first artist to fail miserably at getting ‘proper’ recognition. The word ‘proper’ is in quotes because I am speaking merely of that validation that comes with having a label release ones music, not the recognition I give myself and the beneficial consequences of such smugness. In fact, now that I’ve reached the end of this I feel even weirder about what could be perceived as seeking alms. Fuck it though, I was asked to write about my baby and I did and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do so. Check out our fucking albums. Don’t hesitate to get in touch. Praise be to the adversary, or something.
I first read about North via Catherine Yates’ review of What You Were back in 2008, but it wasn’t until I perused our Managing Editor’s writeup of the record in that year’s top 40 that I thankfully got around to listening. Even though it’s been a while since then, once you’ve read last year’s interview with guitarist Matt Mutterperl, all I really need to tell you about what the Arizonians have been up to recently is that they dropped a self-described “transition” EP Metanoia back in March and that it’s great to have them back. Since the trio will be hitting the road next month, we asked Mutterperl and drummer Zack Hansen to contribute another chapter in our ongoing series of what gets played in the tour van. After you’ve checked out their picks below, get a copy of Metanoiahere. What You Were is also being released on vinyl for the first time next month, and you can pre-order that here.
When I’m on the road and it’s my turn to drive, it’s essential that I have a few things: coffee, light assorted snackery, and tunes that keep me engaged and pass the time. Here are my picks.–Matt Mutterperl
The Smashing Pumpkins–Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995)
I first got this album when I was in grade school and I only jammed a few other songs besides the singles. Years later when I revisited it, I listened all the way through it and it was totally captivating. I love this record. We attempted covering “Bodies”, but it’s been on the drawing board for a while, unfortunately. Gets better with every listen through, I think. Perfect to get lost in.
Q And Not U–No Kill No Beep Beep (2000)
I moved to Arizona in the middle of high school, and I had zero friends for a little bit, except for the internet. A forum I was on had mentioned Dischord Records, and somehow I came across Q And Not U. This album was a real eye-opener/taste-shaper/mind-expander. It’s catchy as hell, and usually [bassist/vocalist] Evan Leek and I can sing along to most of it and dance like a couple of hip jerks!
Weezer–Pinkerton (1996, 2010 deluxe edition)
Again, an album that I briefly flirted with as a youth and came back to appreciate later. Pinkerton has that raw, visceral emotion that Weezer’s other offerings don’t really do for me. I can listen straight through, finger-drumming along for almost an hour before we hit the b-sides and live tracks: “Getting Up and Leaving” and “Tragic Girl” are solid tracks that I had never heard before and instantly fell in love with.
Glassjaw–Worship And Tribute (2002)
I’ve listened to this album countless times, and it never gets old to me. From front to finish, Daryl Palumbo’s vocals never let up. Hell, every instrument is shining here. “Tip Your Bartender” quickly sets the tone and all of the sudden I’m on “Pink Roses” and still jamming. I can easily get lost in this piece for it to satisfy part of an overnight drive. This album is timeless to me.
Sleep is such an invaluable resource on the road, you really take for granted just how comfortable the minute sounds of your own room are. Then you have to take into account the guys snoring their skulls off, the hardwood floor, the unfamiliar houses and the non stop ringing in your ears. Most of the time music is a necessity just to get those four hours of sleep you need to get back in the driver’s seat. North plays loud, heavy, and extreme music and so many of my favorite artists and groups are the opposite of that. I think a good contrast is needed. Here are some albums I need to get by on tour.–Zack Hansen
Sigur Rós–Ágætis byrjun (1999)
Such a monumental record, this band can do no wrong in my eyes. When we first started touring, I didn’t drive a lot. I would just throw on this record and ( ), and pass out in the back of the van for hours. I’m not sure I could stay awake through more than two songs, it was just so soothing and melancholic that I had no choice but to shut down completely.
Sylvain Chauveau–Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated) (2010)
I listen to a lot of composers and I think Frenchman Sylvain Chauveau is one of the strangest. Singular Forms bucked the trend of his previous albums and went so completely minimal that it becomes borderline creepy. The vocals make this project and really set it apart from the rest of his work. It’s rhythmic, raw, repetitive, and disconcerting. Doesn’t sound like the most appealing music when you need rest but it works. This is one of those albums where I’ll fall asleep over and over, only to wake up in the middle, only to go to right back to sleep again.
Mouth Of The Architect–Quietly (2008)
One of the most important records of my adulthood. It came out around the same time as our first full length, What You Were, in the summer of 2008. We were on tour for a month and our route was a few days behind the MOTA, Intronaut and Behold The Arctopus tour. We sometimes even played the same venue. All the while I listened to Quietly twice a day at least. It was my go to record when I needed peace and quiet. At the same time it’s not a gentle record, quite the opposite in fact. It’s so depressing and dark, from the opening sample of the wind chimes to the final vocals on “A Beautiful Corpse”. This is the music I needed to shut down the rest of the world for a time.
Braveyoung–We Are Lonely Animals (2011)
We toured with Braveyoung when they were known as Giant in our early instrumental days and they really showed me how tour was supposed to be done. I look up to them musically and as people. They went from putting out such a ridiculously crushing EP in Song to instrumental perfection on We Are Lonely Animals. I could listen to this all day and night, and sometimes do. It’s a nice reminder of the art and true beauty in music. It’s making me sappy as we speak. Their last record Will The Dust Praise You is equally inspiring.
*Photo by Andrew Weiss
**Pick up a copy of Metanoiahere and check out the band on the following dates:
8/01/2014 Club Congress – Tucson, AZ
8/02/2014 TBA – Santa Fe, NM
8/03/2014 Denver Black Sky – Denver, CO
8/04/2014 FOKL Center – Kansas City, MO
8/05/2014 The Triple rock – Minneapolis, MN
8/06/2014 Quarters – Milwaukee, WI (with Northless)
8/07/2014 The Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL (with Northless)
8/08/2014 Ottawa Tavern – Toledo, OH
8/09/2014 The Shop – Pittsburgh, PA
8/10/2014 King Fun Necktie – Philadelphia, PA
8/11/2014 TBA – Brooklyn, NY
8/12/2014 Strange Matter – Richmond, VA
8/13/2014 Slim’s Downtown – Raleigh, NC
8/14/2014 The Poison Lawn – Knoxville, TN
8/15/2014 Wallstreet – Murfreesboro, TN
8/16/2014 The Forge – Birmingham, AL (with Set and Setting)
8/17/2014 Hey Café – New Orleans, LA (with Set and Setting)
8/18/2014 Hi-Tone – Little Rock, AR (with Set and Setting)
8/19/2014 Lindbeerg’s – Springfield, MO (with Set and Setting)
8/20/2014 The Conservatory – Oklahoma City, OK
8/21/2014 Holy Mountain – Austin, TX
8/22/2014 Lowbrow Palace – El Paso, TX
10/16-19/2014 Southwest Terror Fest III, Tucson, AZ
Think of a band manager as the “mom” of a band. While they’re not necessarily involved in the music-making, they oversee many of the behind-the-scenes logistics that make it possible. As you’ll read below, there’s a whole lot of people and decisions swirling around even a young band, so it pays to have someone that knows what he or she is doing helping to steer the ship. Not all managers know what they’re doing; fewer have scruples enough to do it well. Managers Ryan Downey (Superhero Artist Management) and Mark Vieira (Good Fight Entertainment) have massloads of both knowledge AND scruples. Here’s what they had to say when I interrogated them for the Killing Is My Business column in Decibel issue #118 (Godflesh cover).
On a basic level, what services do you offer your management clients?
Mark Vieira: Ultimately a manager should have a pretty good idea of what’s going on with all aspects of the band. At the end of the day, it’s the band’s job to make music, perform, etc. I do whatever is needed to facilitate that and remove as many distractions as needed. I shop bands for record deals, whether they are actual recording contracts or licensing deals. If a band doesn’t have an agent, I help to find the right agent for the band. Once an agent is in place, I work closely with the agent to get the band on support tours, and to get solid support for the band’s tours.
I’ll work with the label when it comes to the set up of the album, and figure out the best marketing, press and radio (where it’s necessary) plans for the particular band. For instance, a really great place to premier a Defeater song may not be the best outlet to debut a 1349 track.
I book studio time for acts in some cases, or help find the best recording/mixing/mastering scenario. Sometimes that’s in conjunction with a label; other times, it’s on our own. Merchandise is another big one; some bands are very hands-on with their merch, and artwork in general; others aren’t. I’ll find artists/graphic designers when needed. I set up and oversee web stores, as well as retail merch deals, be sure there are new designs coming on a regular basis, whether we’re providing, or the merch company is and we’re approving.
From a touring perspective, I’ll work with artists and merch companies on that angle. I’ll help a band find a crew if they need one (some bands, the crew is the first part of the team they end up with). Depending on the band and the type of tour, I’ll arrange transportation, or even find a vehicle for the band to buy.
Is there such thing as a “typical day” in the life of a manager?
Ryan Downey: People who are far outside the music industry will often ask me a series of questions that goes like this: “So, you manage bands. Does that mean you book their shows?” No, that’s the booking agent. “Okay. So you put out their CDs?” No, that’s the record label. “Hmm. So you negotiate their contracts?” Well, I’m pretty involved in that, but technically, that’s the attorney. “Okay, okay, so you go on tour with them and look after things on the road.” No, that’s the tour manager. “Sooooo…you get them interviews?” No, that’s the publicist. “SO WHAT DO YOU DO?!”
What do I do? Everything else. Plus, I make sure all of the above folks are working together and working effectively. The workflow and tasks involved are so varied that the easiest thing to do seems like a case study. Here’s a breakdown of some of the management related tasks I worked on yesterday:
-Finalized a recording schedule for a producer
-Sent notes back and forth on a remix project one of my guys is doing
-Said “thanks but no thanks” to a pitch from a video director
-Worked on logistics for the Kerrang! Awards
-Established a relationship with an A&R guy from PledgeMusic
-Made a band aware of a radio campaign we’ll be starting soon
-Spoke with an attorney about a lawsuit that will soon be filed on behalf of two of my bands
-Registered two artists with a performing rights organization
-Solicited an offer for a South African tour for one of my bands
-Sent back some comments on Soundgarden from one of my guys for a PureVolume article
-Sent back notes on a rough cut of a music video
-Coordinated promo for a band’s performance at Metal Hammer’s Golden Gods
-Worked on social security forms, tax waivers, personnel lists and other logistics for an upcoming European tour
-Said thanks to Sirius for playing the heck out of three of my bands right now
-Took care of some overdue invoices for CD tour stock purchases
-Told an agent that one of my bands isn’t interested in a meet and greet opportunity
-Nudged a publicist to send over some e-mail interviews that are coming for one of my guys
-Dialed in a tour budget
-Thanked an Australian publicist
-Worked on finishing some trademark work for one of my bands
-Got a new song over to a publishing company
-Discussed potential budgets/fees for a sync/licensing opportunity
-Sent an invoice on behalf of one of my producers
-Approved promo rollout for a forthcoming album release
-Discussed and reviewed proposals for a promotion with a major clothing brand
-Worked on logistics for an upcoming Canadian festival appearance
-Worked on logistics and promo for two upcoming CreativeLive classes
…And a few other things I’m forgetting!
Do you work closely with a band’s business manager, attorney, publicist, promoters, tour managers, etc. or are those jobs very much distinct?
Mark: All of those jobs are very distinct. However, a manager’s job is to act as a go-between, middleman, sometimes moderator, between all of those listed and the band. Add in label staff and booking agent, as well. The ideal situation is that all information running to and from a band is going through me. That’s not to say a band is not going to communicate directly with a lot of those people, but as I mentioned above, if a band, or member of a band, is better served not having to worry about other aspects of the business, then I handle it. And if that band/artist does want to be involved, I need to provide as much guidance and advice as possible.
Ryan Downey and some guy whose name I forget
How does your role change when you’re dealing with a producer client vs. a band client?
Ryan: The most obvious difference is that a producer is one person, which means there’s only one person I really need to communicate with and make decisions with. Now with that being said, I believe most bands function better with one or two people calling the shots, or at the very least, one or two people acting as a mouthpiece for the band. Bands who insist on running as a full democracy, or worse, want to have a consensus on something before taking action, have been the least efficient in my opinion. Zeuss, one of the producers I work with, actually coined the term “BandBoss,” which I love. In most band settings, you can ask “Who’s the BandBoss?” and get a pretty quick answer.
Now this doesn’t have to be a Nine Inch Nails or Megadeth type of arrangement. Nobody has to be “over” somebody else necessarily; everyone has different things he is better at than other people in the band. The bass player may be the best at social media promotion; maybe the drummer is mechanically minded and can tune up the van. Then you’ve got a guitar player whose mom is a travel agent; let that person book all the travel, etc.
A lot of the same things apply with producers and bands — finding opportunities, discussing opportunities, negotiating, contracts, invoicing, scheduling. And often with a producer, I’m working with the management, label people and band members who are working on a given project, which is often a job unto itself.
How valuable are industry connections to a manager?
Mark: Invaluable. I realize it sounds cheesy, and probably conjures images of schmoozing on the golf course, but I can’t emphasize enough how important relationships are. A big part of the reason I moved to LA eight years ago was because I was working with a band signed to an LA-based label, who had an agent, etc. out here. I was constantly speaking with people here, so figured I’d get more done in the same city. I’m certainly not saying you need to live here, or in NYC, but you definitely need to be on people’s radars.
If I could go back in time and tell younger me to do one thing differently, I’d say “Go to SXSW. Go to LA and meet with people at least once a year. When you go to NYC for shows, stay in town for another day or two and meet some new people: other managers, agents, label, publishers, press. Go with one of your bands to a European festival and meet the people putting on the festival and the EU contingent.” I feel it’s human nature to want to work more with people you know and are friendly with. As far as making them goes, ask for an introduction from a mutual acquaintance. Hell, even a cold call or e-mail can work. A cup of coffee or a beer can go a long way.
You hear it all the time – “You don’t find a manager, a manager finds you.” How do you discover the bands you go on to manage?
Mark: There have been a couple of occasions when bands have contacted me, and I’ve liked the band, and it’s gone from there. More often than not, though, it’s been through recommendations. A lot of the time, an agent or label will pick up an act before there’s a manager in place, and they’ll contact some people they like working with, or who they feel suits the band. Other times, other managers will say “Hey, so and so just opened for one of my bands, and they’re looking for management. You may be into it.”
I also check out a lot of new music, whether it’s via a label sending out promos, or just seeing a band on a news site. If I like a band, I’ll start following them and keeping tabs. On a few occasions, I’ve started working with bands because I’d seen their name pop up a bunch, and liked what I’d heard and pursued them.
Mark Vieira also manages a sweet beard
What factors do you look at when you’re deciding whether or not to take on a new client?
Ryan: First and foremost: do I like their work? Can I stand behind it without embarrassment or bashfulness? I’ve said “Yes” to projects where that isn’t the case, and eventually paid the price for it in some fashion. Anyone in this business who says they haven’t made that mistake is probably lying. But the vast majority of bands and producers I’ve worked with, I’ve truly loved their work. It’s even better when I love the folks involved. My management career started with bands who were all friends of mine prior to being a manager: Bleeding Through, Throwdown, Zao, Demon Hunter, Tiger Army. A couple of years ago, I started working with The Dillinger Escape Plan, who my band toured with in 1999.
Those organic relationships are wonderful. Zeuss had produced a couple of records for Throwdown before we worked together in a management capacity. I have, of course, sought out talent who are strangers. The most important questions are: are they smart? Are they dedicated to the band? Have they figured out a bunch on their own and gotten themselves a certain distance? Are they realistic about the landscape, the climate, and where they fit in?
A manager should be a partner, working as hard (if not harder) as the hardest working people in the band. A manager is not someone who comes along and does everything while you just show up and play. I want partners, not parasites.
One lesson I’ve learned: when a band decides to go part time, abandon ship! I’ve had some artists who became more demanding even as they became less active. There are few things less savory in business than having a client who takes up over 50% of your time while contributing about 10% of your overall income, year after year.
Managers, when you get that “part-time,” “hiatus,” etc. phone call, TELL THEM TO CALL YOU BACK WHEN THEY ARE READY TO BE FULL-TIME AGAIN. Get the fuck out, or you may be dragged down with them as they fade from view.
What kind of expectations do you set for a band when you take one on?
Mark: That’s really a case-by-case basis type thing. I want a band to become “successful,” based on what their definition of that is. A ceiling for a modern metalcore type band is going to be different from that of a black metal band. There’s going to be drastically different opportunities available for some types of bands than others, just based on genre. So ultimately, I want to help that particular band reach their particular goal, whatever it may be. I don’t think it’s right to have a “you’re going to gross X dollars, and sell 25,000 records, and average 450 tickets a show this year,” type bar set. If I have one expectation, it’s that the bands make awesome fucking albums.
When Superhero takes on a band that’s been around for a while, which tasks do you take on that the band might have handled itself previously?
Ryan: The Dillinger Escape Plan is probably the only seasoned band I’ve taken on. The other more experienced bands I work with, I’ve been with a long time. Demon Hunter, for example, I’ve been with since album two and they are on album seven. Ben Weinman is the perfect example of a partner in this thing — he’s very DIY, very business savvy, has plenty of his own relationships. I’ve been able to alleviate much of his workload, which in turn frees him up to focus more on the music and less on the business, and to better pursue other projects outside TDEP both professional and personal.
How involved is Superhero in the creative directions that your bands (and producers) take?
Ryan: It depends on the artist. All of them kick ideas around with me; occasionally I’ll suggest something and they will take it and run with it. But for the most part, I’m careful to choose bands that don’t need creative input from a manager. I mean nobody is going to tell Greg Puciato how to sing, nor should they. I’ve been lucky to avoid a lot of career-obsessed bands, bands who waste a bunch of time trying to construct albums and touring cycles that are based to appeal to this or that crowd and get them to (my least favorite, most overused phrase ever) “the next level.”
Make art for the right reasons, then we’ll figure the rest out. That’s my philosophy. Nothing wrong with making a living from music, even a great living, we all want to do that. But that can’t be the priority. It MUST be the art.
Fred Durst was on the top of the world there for a second. HR from Bad Brains was said to be homeless at one point. Which guy has the better legacy, the bigger credibility, and the most lasting impact on other musicians and culture? One guy slept with Britney Spears, made cameos in Ben Stiller movies and destroyed Woodstock. The other one changed the fucking face of rock, while transporting listeners on a spiritual trip. To each his own, but I chose my team a long time ago.
What’s the standard financial deal like with the acts you represent? What revenue streams are you involved in – and which ones do you not touch?
Mark: This is a bit of a sticky topic. Obviously, sources of revenue are changing pretty rapidly in the music business as traditional physical sales fall, and everyone from artists to labels to managers are trying to find new sources and trying to maximize what they can. The “standard” deal is usually 15%, although I do know of managers who take anywhere from 10-20%. My personal philosophy is that with the way things are changing, we can’t have a “gold standard” set of rules. There needs to be some flexibility, on all sides: bands have to be willing to give up some income they maybe wouldn’t have in the past (merch rights to a label for instance), but the labels and managers also have to be aware that, at some point, something is going to have to give, and we’re going to have to work out deals that work for our specific artists.
Ryan: This is definitely a touchy and controversial area. I’m appalled when I hear about managers who take 20% of gross, then charge bands for expenses (travel, etc.) on top of that. I don’t see how that makes any sense, even from a selfish point of view. I believe in leaving money on the table now in order to make more money later. Fleecing a band for all their money, putting yourself in a position where you make significantly more than any one guy? Why would you do that? Invest your time, energy and work into a band and you will be repaid dividends you won’t get ripping them off.
All of my deals vary, but for the most part, they work like this: 15% of gross from guarantees, 15% of net from merchandise, 15% of royalties, etc. When an album advance comes in, I only commission from the amount the band puts in their pockets for living expenses. I will subtract the actual hard costs of recording before calculating my fee. Generally, on international tours, I’ll subtract the cost of airfare from the guarantees before commissioning. There are plenty of times where I’ll tell a band “don’t pay us a merch cut” when a tour is going to help them grow but has low profit margins.
Management commissions cover all of the work I do when a band is between tours. It also pays for overhead like office space, Internet, iPhones, and employees both full-time and part time. That’s one thing some band people fail to take into consideration. I’m not just some dude taking some money from them and buying new clothes with it.
Does the financial deal change if you’re dealing with a better-known band vs. a baby band?
Mark: A financial deal, for me personally, would be more situational per band; it would have less to do with the size of the band and more to do with what make sense between that band and myself. I’m always looking for bands that are going to have careers and are in it for the long haul (or who’ve been in it for the long haul). So there are times with baby bands where you need to think to yourself, “If I commission at our agreed-upon rate, these guys may not be able to tour again this year.” I want to grow with the band, so I’ll probably work out some kind of reduction, in order to keep that baby band working, and growing, so that in eight years, we’re all making money. Let’s do that then.
Are label and/or publishing deals always part of the plan, or do you ever advise your bands to release and publish their music themselves?
Ryan: It’s definitely a case-by-case decision. I’ve got some established acts who are out of their deals or nearing the conclusion of their deals and we are looking at all options, including joint ventures (such as the one TDEP did with Sumerian in North America and BMG worldwide for our Party Smasher Inc. label), artist services/distribution deals…
Mark: I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with publishing deals, although I know a lot of people hate them. I feel if someone is really going to work to place a band’s songs and get a band paid (along with themselves) and garner more exposure, as opposed to sitting on the material, it’s a win-win. That said, there is, not surprisingly, not a HUGE demand for black metal, grind or hardcore songs in films and primetime television series. If there’s a good, fair offer for a band, which makes sense for that particular band, I don’t have an issue with it.
As for labels, there have been two circumstances in the past several years where I’ve suggested artists consider self-releasing albums. In both cases, they were somewhat established bands, with several releases on other labels, so they had some sort of fan base, touring history, etc. That said, I still believe that labels are a very important piece of the puzzle, especially for “baby bands” or developing acts. I definitely do not subscribe to the “We don’t need labels any more!!” philosophy you hear quite a bit. While even a bigger, well-established label may not be able to get a very young band’s music into a national retailer, the marketing they can provide is crucial. Your chances of getting a support slot on a tour are definitely increased if you have a label behind you, who are going to help promote and market the tour, thus creating more awareness for the tour and, hopefully, selling more tickets.
Most bands just don’t have the ability, experience or time to do a really solid self release. So many of the self-release scenarios we’re seeing are really joint venture deals with labels or distributors, or situations where they’ve brought in a label or distributor to perform label services. That’s what I really feel the music business is pushing toward; progressive, non-traditional label deals, as opposed to a straight self release. But again, I’m not opposed to the self-release model, if it makes sense for a particular band and their situation.
Some managers will stipulate that they keep getting paid on record sales released after their relationship with a band has ended, if the record was made while they were still the manager. What’s your philosophy on that kind of clause?
Mark: The reality here is, with sales declining, we’re going to see fewer and fewer copies of a particular title continuing to sell. We’re looking at a lion’s share of sales of a record coming in the first few months of its release. I’ve heard “two to three months,” thrown around as the life cycle of a release. Catalog sales, especially for newer/younger bands, aren’t going to be even comparative to the catalog sales we see from Guns N Roses, Metallica and so on. To answer the actual question: if you’re fortunate enough to be involved with a situation which produces a new Reign in Blood or Appetite for Destruction, which will sell a ton of copies annually for years to come, I don’t see an issue with a manager looking to keep seeing royalties from that. There’s a ton of effort that goes into a record from all parts of a band’s “team.”
You must get unsolicited pitches from all sorts of different people. Can you recount a ridiculous idea someone pitched to one of your bands, and how you dealt with it?
Ryan: During the height of Bleeding Through’s popularity, as they toured two records in a row with close to 300,000 sales between them in North America, I got a lot of ridiculous and downright offensive “ideas” thrown my way for Marta, the band’s keyboard player. She had no problem with getting dolled up for a photo shoot and generally looking attractive; not any more so than guys in bands who work out and give their “smoldering” look to the camera. She’s also very intelligent, motivated, hardworking and discerning. Since she first joined Bleeding Through, I’ve seen a lot more women who’ve come after her in heavy music go for broke by taking on a lot of the type of stuff we always turned down. Aside from that, the worst thing about unsolicited pitches? THE ATTACHMENTS. For the love of God, it’s 2014, please just send me a link where I can download your shit. I don’t want a 55MB attachment from you. EVER.
Can you give an anecdote of a situation you had to defuse as a manager that you never could have expected you’d be a part of?
Mark: There’s the kind of typical/run of the mill intra-band squabbles, where you have to play mediator or referee. I’ve been part of drug interventions. I’ve also learned far more about criminal law than I probably ever suspected I would. I’ve also had to grab gear and load out of venues, quickly, while riots broke out on several occasions. Not something I expected going in.
At what point in a band’s career does it make sense to get a manager?
Mark: There isn’t a smoking gun answer here. Some successful bands have never had managers. It really depends on a band’s specific goal(s). You want to tour, full-time, get a record deal and grow the band into a full time business? Then it’s probably best to have a manager when your duties as musician and your duties as manager/accountant/booking agent/travel agent start to conflict.
I do, however, see a lot of younger bands looking for management very quickly, which I don’t think is a good thing. It’s now much easier to get labels’ attention via internet presence than it was, say, ten years ago when you mailed in a CD demo, and hoped when you opened for “Touring Band X” in your home town, “Touring Band X” would go back to their label and say “The local band in OKC really kicked ass. They said they sent in their demo, you should really check them out!”
Bands are getting signed earlier, with less and less experience touring, recording, self releasing records, or just being a band in general, and don’t have their “sea legs.” As a result, agents and managers are jumping on bands that much quicker. This is creating a “Throw it against the wall and see what sticks” type mentality in a lot of pockets of “underground music;” that’s an attitude that at one time was somewhat reserved for A&R at major labels. There have definitely been circumstances, however, where I’ve heard a band I really liked, who I thought weren’t really ready for management, but I’ve gotten involved with because I didn’t want to see them end up in a bad situation with a label, agent or other manager.
There are also labels out there who are “anti-manager,” which I can understand to some extent; there’s lots of stereotypes about managers, and misconceptions about what it is we do, and those may not be without some justification or reasoning behind it. On one hand, a label may think it’s better to deal directly with the band about their art and avoid a third party with “ulterior (financial) motives.” On the other hand, a label’s motives aren’t necessarily in the best interest of a band at all times, either. I believe in a “checks and balances” type system.
Ryan: Build your band, generate a following, and the managers will come looking for you. Educate yourself about how to do all the things you’d expect a manager to do and do them to the best of your ability until you literally can’t do them anymore. Don’t look at a prospective manager (or agent, or label) based on their roster. Nobody has a magic wand; if Paul McGuinness had the blueprint for U2 in his filing cabinet, we’d have 100 more U2s. Right?
Do you think every band needs a manager? What should a young band keep in mind when they’re considering looking for management?
Ryan: Absolutely not! Unfortunately, there are so many managers, “fanagers,” “bandagers” and “companies” overcrowding the heavy music genre, there aren’t many opportunities for bands to truly develop before someone snatches them up. Often, I’ll hear about a band and then realize they have a social media presence, merch store, manager, booking agent, attorney — but they don’t have any fans yet, let alone any songs that are worth a shit. We’ve sold over 500,000 albums with Demon Hunter, toured around the world, etc. They were already on album two before they had a manager.
For every huge, cool band a manager will take credit for when you meet them, there are several more who never made it. You win some, you lose some. Ask the manager to tell you about two or three of their bands who went nowhere. Ask them to tell you what they think went wrong and what they learned from the experience.
Is this person articulate? Respected? Trustworthy? Of good character? Does she or he understand what you’re trying to do and does this person pay attention and TRULY LISTEN to the things you have to say? Those are the things you should be looking at. The “big” bands come and go for any manager.
Are there situations where hiring your inexperienced but enthusiastic pal who is willing to work hard as your manager can pay off?
Mark: Absolutely. That’s how I started off. A lot of people I know in this line of work started as a “friendager” or a “fanager.” Or, your buddies’ band was touring and you said “Hey, I’ll come along and help carry gear and sell merch.” Next thing you know you’re a tour manager. Lots of managers come from that angle, as well. But, back to the original question, if you’ve got a friend who’s organized, hardworking, believes in the band, and wants to help out, it can certainly pay off.
Do you find there are certain backgrounds or personality types that make for better managers?
Ryan: It depends on the goals, I guess. I mean, there are plenty of Type A, unscrupulous, ladder-climbing sharks who manage bands and are “good” at it from a certain perspective. But if you ask me, the “better” managers are the people who are capable of a vast amount of empathy, who can speak softly but carry a big stick, and who will learn from others, no matter how far they’ve climbed the ladder. If you want respect, GIVE respect. People forget that all the damn time.
Ryan Downey busts balls for the Dillinger Escape Plan, Demon Hunter, Bleeding Through, The Atlas Moth and more for Superhero Artist Management. When not fighting musical crime, he writes freelance, chats with movie stars and interviews the occasional incarcerated bodybuilding ex-Christian metalcore vocalist. Visit him at superherohq.com or ryanjdowney.com.
Mark Vieira steers the ship for Defeater, 1349, Black Tusk, Ringworm, Early Graves, Silver Snakes and singer-songwriter Joe Fletcher at Good Fight Entertainment. Visit him at work at goodfightentertainment.com.
Hello folks, it’s been a while, but I’m back with another installment of ‘Holy Shit.’ If you’re unfamiliar with the concept – and you should be, because until a few days ago, I totally forgot this series existed here and here – basically it boils down to the disciplinary practice of me keeping it in my pants (my wallet, that is!) while record shopping UNLESS I come across something that makes me exclaim those two magical words. This edition comes to you courtesy of the gang of music nerds and record buying enthusiasts who have accompanied me to the Maryland Deathfest the past couple of years. Suffice to say, things do get pretty ridiculous with our posse: topics of conversation tend towards which hand-numbered copy of random limited edition records we own; we’ve been known to bring bunches of empty vinyl mailing boxes to secure and protect our purchases; we’ll spend inordinate amounts of time cruising around, looking for shade in downtown Baltimore to park our car underneath to avoid as much heat and potential vinyl warping that may occur; and it always seems to take more gas to get home than it does getting there which makes sense when you consider the hundreds of pounds of vinyl, CDs, books and other merch four dudes who should know better, but don’t, come home with after Memorial Day weekend.
This past year at MDF, the topic in our hotel room/place where our purchases are stored was that the fine folks at Hells Headbangers were liquidating numerous copies of Ironsword’s Overlords of Chaos. The ‘holy shit’ hook being that it was the double-vinyl gatefold version of said unheralded, underrated and generally unheard classic of Robert Howard/H.P. Lovecraft-centric heavy metal proper, a version I didn’t even know existed. What made things even more worthy of mention and resurrection of this column is they were selling ‘em off at $5 a pop! Luckily, I didn’t wait once all this unbelievable information was presented. I bolted over to the HH booth and nabbed what ended up being the second-last copy.
Ironsword is a trio from Lisbon, Portugal that started in 1995 as a one-man project of guitarist/vocalist Joao “Tann” Fonesca and even though Metal Archives says they’re still an active unit, 2008′s Overlords of Chaos was their last release and there’s no indication they’ve done anything since. Hell, they haven’t even made the move from Myspace to Facebook or started a Bandcamp page. Anyhow, Overlords of Chaos is a masterclass of chugging, heavy metal fundamentals in the vein of Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol deeply ensconced in the Howard/Lovecraft fantasy worlds; those authors and their works were touched upon in each and every song. As well, Ironsword knew the value of a hook and how to write killer choruses and by the time they got to Overlords after their self-titled debut and its follow-up, Return of the Warrior, this skill made album number three a top-to-bottom exercise in excellence. Six years down the line and the melodies and choruses of “Road Warriors,” “Hyperborean Hordes,” “Cimmeria,” “Fear the Night” and “Blood and Honor” still pop into my head, unprovoked, on an all-too-regular basis. It doesn’t hurt that we played the latter song on our radio show every week for a year and that Tann’s broken English pronunciations add uniqueness and charm to his vocal phrasing. All that and a bassist named Rick Thor as well as the battle scene, swords and pneumatic-breasted women gracing the cover – it’s all metal all the time in their world. Aside from the obvious differences in medium and size, the vinyl version is virtually the same as the CD as far as artwork and liner notes are concerned, but to score an underground classic on double vinyl in mint condition for $5? Holy shit is right!
In case you can’t remember that far back, Tombs‘ last record, Path of Totality, was our top album of 2011. Fast forward three years, and the band’s latest release appears to have garnered near-universal acclaim since it dropped earlier this month. So it’s only fitting that guitarist/vocalist Mike Hill’s playlist focuses on something that, in one way or another, most people have experienced. As the frontman explains about his “Songs for the Heartbroken” playlist, “Everyone has gotten their hearts broken at one time or another. For me, music always played a huge part in the recovery process. Below are some jams that I keep on hand for those heavy times.”
Be sure to pick up a copy of Savage Gold–another of my favorites so far this year–here.
Swans’ “God Damn The Sun” (from 1989′s The Burning World)
This is the number one 4 a.m. track for those moments when you’re in the grips of the intensity of a breakup. This song just doesn’t sound the same during the day.
New Order’s “Ceremony” (from 1981′s “Ceremony”/”In a Lonely Place” single)
This song was written by Ian Curtis, the saddest man in human history. Being involved in an intercontinental love triangle probably gives him the black belt in heartbreak. There is a version of this song on Heart and Soul, the Joy Division discography that came out a few years ago. A while back, I was given this as a gift from a woman that would ultimately break my heart; fitting, however, I like the New Order version better.
Rollins Band’s “Turned Inside Out” (from 1989′s Hard Volume)
This is the soundtrack for the workout sessions that I put in during the dark times of heartbreak. Typically, during these periods I’m on some insane nutritional plan and I’m trying to burn the hard feelings out of me. I can taste the blood and smell the sweat.
Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” (from 1970′s Paranoid)
Though not a love song, this song makes me feel better when I’m living in the shadow of depression’s black wings. The line from the title track, “Can you help me / Occupy my brain?”, also really hits me because, at these times, distraction is really the thing that I’m seeking. Something to get my mind slowed down and pacified.
The Cure’s “Pictures Of You” (from 1989′s Disintegration)
This whole jam is about looking at pictures of a young lady and almost believing that they’re real. I love Robert Smith’s voice and Porl Thompson’s guitar work; they dovetail really well creating this darkly beautiful paean to longing.
Samhain’s “To Walk The Night” (from 1986′s Samhain III: November-Coming-Fire)
This song was the soundtrack to my youth, driving around at night alone, pretending that I was Marlon Brando. It’s the right song for those hours after midnight when the streetlights are blinking and there are no cops around to pull you over for speeding. Glenn has one of the most haunting voices in metal.
By: Chris D. Posted in: featured, listsOn: Monday, June 23rd, 2014
Brit thrashers Sabbat were among a select few to come from the island to have made a genuine impact. To this very day, Dreamweaver remains singular. The group’s logo also has similar import. Like most thrash metal logos, it’s readable at a distance yet it has an edge to it. Each letter in Sabbat has a purpose. The way the “S” zigs, the points at the top of the “B” stems, and the way the “T” crosses back into the word Sabbat. Typically, the logo is outlined, which only adds to its visibility. Sure, there are plenty of thrash metal logos that look more “metal” or have more “edge”, but few of them have balanced like Sabbat.
4. Dark Angel
Cali thrashers didn’t get their logo right until the Leave Scars release. The first two iterations—first with We Have Arrived and second with the purple awfulness of Darkness Descends—weren’t fully realized, to be honest. The word “Dark Angel” is plenty killer. The way the letters angle into one another is pretty genius. Though the fill under the “N” in “Angel” is strange—now fixed with the revitalized Dark Angel—but what really sets this logo off are the demon wings. Again, by Leave Scars the wings had come in and were detailed to such an extent that young ‘bangers were quite intimidated by what might be powering them.
Like most bands with tenure, there are several versions of Slayer’s logo. From Show No Mercy through Reign in Blood, Slayer used slightly different stylings of its SS/sword pentagram logo. The early versions sported dripping blood, while the later versions omitted the blood and cleaned up the lettering and sword work. While personally I prefer when the SS/sword logo was paired with the single-headed eagle—again, a nod to WWII iconography—it’s the version that appeared on the group’s Def Jam records that seal the deal. Certainly, it wasn’t the logo from Diabolus in Musica or the crayon version that appeared on the cover of Christ Illusion.
Instantly recognizable and instantly horrifying—a sort of Mad Max like machine of a logo—is Voivod’s Rrröööaaarrr-era brand. Voidheads will certainly argue with me on this one, however. There’s the totally cult To the Death logo, or the Nothingface circuit logo, or the art nouveau aspects to the Angel Rat logo, but none of them hold a candle to what first appeared on Rrröööaaarrr. When paired with the evil robot head, it paints a vastly different picture from most fantasy-themed logos of the day. There were no swords, crests, shields or heraldry in Voivod’s logo. No, just full-on sci-fi techno death. And for that reason, this is why Voivod sits so high up on our list.
The Kill ‘Em All logo should get the nod here, but we’re giving full props to the Ride the Lightning brand. It’s 3D-esque, where the entire word “Metallica” is tilted from the bottom up. The tilt gives it a heightened sense of import. True, the logo has a double stroke to make it pop, but the edges are just plain mean. The classic “M” and “A” signal the beginning and end. And it’s highly legible, not just by ‘bangers in denim and spikes, but by defensive moms and pops. When they saw the logo “back in the day” they knew it meant danger and/or undesirable music made by wayward early 20s men. The Kill ‘Em All logo returned for …and Justice for All only it was debossed.
Honorable mentions: Seventh Angel, Holy Terror, Sepultura, Death Angel, Corrosion of Conformity, Forbidden, and Toxic Holocaust.
Visit our Top 5 Logos list posts:
1. Decibel’s Top 5 Black Metal Logos (HERE)
2. Decibel’s Top 5 Death Metal Logos (HERE)
3. Decibel’s Top 5 Doom Metal Logos (HERE)