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Orthophonic Witchcraft: A Conversation With Dave Adelson of 20 Buck Spin

Dave Adelson is the man behind 20 Buck Spin - a label that’s succeeded on the simplest of platforms: only release music you like. It seems easy enough, but when the general cacophony of hashtag culture has the inexplicable clout to sway label owners and even bands themselves, it can be a lonesome and arduous task. Adelson isn’t worried, though. Hell, he’s indifferent to the distractions. That attitude and focus has rewarded Adelson since the label’s inception nearly a decade ago. Labels are a dime a dozen. Labels that manage to maintain a reputation of reliability and quality are increasingly rare. 20 Buck Spin has been fairly busy this year, releasing the outstanding Mournful Congregation EP, Concrescence of the Sophia and the Vanhelgd full-length Relics of Sulphur Salvation as well as a handful of other damn good releases. SfB asked Adelson a few questions about the label’s story, the excellent Chips and Beer Magazine, and what we can expect from 20 Buck Spin in the near future. 


20 Buck Spin is about to celebrate its ten-year-anniversary next year, Dave. What’s been the most rewarding experience for you in that time not only from your perspective as a label owner but as a fan of heavy music as well?

Ten years already? I’m not a sentimental guy so I don’t know that you’ll be seeing me make any fuss over it, Jonathan, but it’s nice to still be around. It certainly wasn’t clear in 2005 that the label, or I myself, would make it that far. As a label owner the best thing has been to work with bands I admire and help spread their music and help them along their way. I’ve made good friends in doing so and gained experience in collaborating with people in ways both positive and negative, which ultimately is valuable not only for conducting business but in other areas of life too.

I’ve been glad to see that liking and listening to Heavy Metal doesn’t have the connotation of lameness to it that people used to attribute to it. I never thought it was lame of course, I’ve been fanatical about it for 20+ years now. But when I was young (early-md 90s), the ‘punks’ would never like Metal and actively ridiculed it – at least in my neck of the woods – East Bay Area, California, which pre-Internet was all you could judge by, your own region. Nor was it ever acknowledged by the “alternative” scene, or any other. It was me and one other guy in my entire high school into the good shit (Napalm Death, Obituary, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Darkthrone, etc), and this at a high school that was attended by members of Death Angel and Autopsy in years prior. That’s not really the case anymore. The fan base is more diversified across the musical spectrum now and there are more females involved, all good developments.

 

Your first release was Black Boned Angel’s Supereclipse back in 2005. Looking back it’s an indicator of the value you place on experimentation within the heavy music genre and regarding those bands you choose to release with the label. Has your discernment as a label owner changed since that initial release, or has that perspective stayed largely the same with regards to how you pick bands?

It’s always only been about stuff I like. I don’t worry about whether or not it’s experimental in nature, something new, etc. If I like it and it seems within my sphere of influence, I pursue it. However, I would say that when I started 20BS I was more into experimental type stuff at that time, as a listener. That was at the tail end of experimental heavy stuff and experimental music in general being my main listening habit. I still enjoy it, but it’s not my main interest as a fan anymore. Soon after the label began I started getting more back to my roots which are Death and Doom Metal, and Black Metal / Thrash / 70s/80s metal to a lesser extent.

That’s what I was into from an early age and is probably the #1 kind of music I enjoy. I became bored by Death and Black Metal from 2000-2005. Not much good was on my radar, especially with Death Metal. From mid 2001-2003 I also wasn’t involved at all in the music scene, the only time that’s been true since I was in high school. My main source of info during that time was the Aquarius Records updates and The Wire, so it’s no wonder I got deep into the outsider shit. Actually the AQ list is where I found out about Black Boned Angel in the first place.

In 2006 Repugnant’s Epitome Of Darkness dropped and that rekindled my interest in current Death Metal. What a great fucking record. I still listen to it a lot and I keep two copies around in case one gets worn out (as with Teitanblood’s Seven Chalices). So from then on I wanted to do more straightforward music, the kind I liked early on. There’s still been plenty of releases that are more experimental in nature like Wolvserpent, Oranssi Pazuzu, White Mice, Pig Heart Transplant, etc. I’m not a musical luddite exactly. But there has also been albums by Coffins, Vastum, Vanhelgd, Atlantean Kodex, etc. which are more traditional and conservative in a manner of speaking. And I’ve always liked stuff on the fringes of punk, like power-violence, crust, crossover, death rock, etc as can be seen with bands like The Endless Blockade, Stormcrow, Sanctum, Foreseen, Alaric, etc.

I would be bored releasing one kind of music, and it would not be true to my tastes, which are erratic and wide-ranging. I think 20BS was seen as a Doom label early (judging from the demos I always got/get), maybe because of the name, maybe because of some of the releases. It’s never been my intention for it to be one thing. I didn’t even add the word “Records” to the name because it felt limiting (I suffer silently those who say “20 Buck Spin Records”). A label owner should do what s/he wants and not be influenced by outsiders who would project their own aesthetic ideals onto the label. Otherwise why do it?

 

There’s been a fairly recent critical discussion regarding vinyl and its relevance or at least popularity waning. It’s a discussion that’s come up before, yet it seems like extreme music continues to have considerable success with vinyl, at least in relation to other genres. Is that something you’ve seen, and if so, what do you attribute that kind of exception with extreme music’s fanbase to?

You say extreme music fans, I prefer to say Metal fans, but I believe the answer is simple - Metal fans enjoy the music and all that surrounds it more than fans of any other type of music and are willing to throw down cash in support of that. Metal fans, their love of the music, the formats, all the things associated with it, often trumps the costs involved in buying tons of records (some fairly priced, some not), shirts or plane flights to MDF. They are the most dedicated people to music. They’re like the “firearm enthusiasts” of the music world.

If interest in vinyl is waning you wouldn’t know it if you’re making records. The manufacturing plants are more backed up than ever. It now takes twice as long to get a record made as it did when I started. Despite that, I think overall interest in vinyl outside metal, and maybe within, will start to decline in the years ahead. My daughter is 16 now and she doesn’t have any interest in the physical format of music, aside from a mild curiosity. And I’m not pushing it.

Let ‘em develop their own tastes. She’s never lived in an analog world. Way more 37 year olds (my age) are buying vinyl now than 16 year olds. So the physical form will likely be maintained by an increasingly older crowd as time goes on. Aging alts will still think of themselves as cool, with their tats, craft brew and supposedly good taste, but the youngsters will still think they’re lame, I can attest to that. So I’ll bide my time until I need to get a job as data entry clerk at Spotify.


What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of running an underground metal label in 2014 to be? Was that obstacle something you saw from the very beginning of the label, or was it more a matter of gradually discovering it through the experience of running the label?

Running a label at this level is like living a working class life, they are one in the same. And that’s always a challenge as far as money goes. You have times when you’re more flush and times when you’re stretched to the max, always with the looming sense of dread that one too many wrong moves will put you out on the street. So if that sounds like your life, then you know the most harrowing part about running a small label or any small business. It was something I grasped from the onset of the label but as it’s grown bigger and become more central to my livelihood, all of those things are more amplified. It’s ever-present in the day to day operations.

What was your first experience in listening to heavy metal and what connectivity do you see between that initial moment and when you started 20 Buck Spin?

Well the pre-cursor was before age 10 hearing “Purple Haze” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” on tapes my Father had. I loved those riffs, still do. They’re the blueprint for Heavy Metal, so it was appropriate that I heard them first. At age 10, probably via MTV, I heard GNR and Mötley Crüe and got one of my parents to buy me Appetite and Dr. Feelgood tapes (this was ’87). So that’s the kindling, but probably hearing Metallica on MTV with the “One” video was the true starting point (’88).

After a Junior High flirtation with rap, I delved deeper back into Metallica when I started high school in ‘91. From there onto Testament and Sabbath and then into the Roadrunner stuff like Sepultura, Deicide and Obituary, followed right after in early ’92 by Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, Cathedral and Entombed’s Left Hand Path, which remains my favorite Death Metal album to this day. Even at 15 I had the sense that Thrash had already happened and Death Metal is what’s happening now so it became my thing. I bought tons of tapes and shirts at Rasputin Records in Pleasant Hill, CA. The other kids getting into music at my high school were getting into East Bay Punk, which for the most part I didn’t like (Neurosis being an exception), it was way too weak, even for punk. So I was somewhat alone in my interests. 

All of that directly leads to the formation of 20 Buck Spin years later. From the Death Metal interest I joined my high school radio station in ’94 and did an underground metal show for two years, I did a zine in the late ‘90s, got a label job at Necropolis Records from 2000-2001, went on hiatus a few years, then got a job at Alternative Tentacles in 2004 and around the same time started 20 Buck Spin. So one thing led to the next and here I am.


You obviously have a great deal of respect for print as you offered to jumpstart Chips & Beer Magazine. It’s an outstanding publication primarily because it’s deliberately removed from the glut of the pandering blogosphere. I’m curious to know if as a label owner you’ve seen that dynamic of critical perspective in heavy music change significantly from what it was when you first began 20 Buck Spin.

Yeah I think things have changed. There are too many voices now. Most of which sound the same. The hive mind. You could compare a multitude of reviews of the same album without knowing the byline and it would not be possible to identify who wrote it or see much difference of opinion. Love them or hate them the Chips & Beer writers have style, recognizable voices and perhaps most importantly, a contrarian attitude that is painfully lacking now.  I miss bad attitudes and absurdity and lament the straightforward nature of the times. To paraphrase Justin Osborn from Decibel recently, rock n roll used to be badass, it isn’t anymore.

I don’t expect everyone to like Chips & Beer Mag or even get it, but those who do appreciate the alternative critical perspective it provides. It’s entertainment first and foremost, it’s visual, it’s absurdist, it’s mean and it paints a picture and you can’t say that about most nowadays music writing and publications which seeks merely to inform. I don’t like that things in the underground so closely resemble and aspire to the same things we see in the mainstream. Isn’t it supposed to be willfully different? That what I always thought but the times they are a changin’. I’m glad to hear you dig the mag, Jonathan. Truthfully it’s the other guys involved who deserve the credit, they’re the band and I’m just the label in this equation. Chips & Beer is more uncompromising than 20 Buck Spin if it even makes sense to compare them. One is idealist and one is pragmatic.

 

Do you see those changes as potentially having an adverse effect on mass perceptions of experimentation in music when both acclaim and dismissal are equally as immediate and widespread?

Yes it’s a problem that there’s not enough honest feedback. It allows mediocrity to fester and be accepted. There’s no lack of experimentation in music, and experimentation on its own is not a sufficient reason for praise. However I see a heavy bias toward experimentation and “pushing the boundaries” in current music “criticism” that writers insist on despite the fact you don’t see anything like that in the writing itself, which is again, now merely a source of information, lacking something more that I am looking for to keep me interested.

Everybody can hear the music for themselves now at any moment so someone’s written opinion about an album in a straightforward way isn’t interesting to me unless they’ve been known to me a long time and earned my respect. I need more, I need to be entertained, and I’m not finding that. So that was part of the impetus for Chips & Beer. I wanted Chips & Beer to be something akin to Forced Exposure with writers in the Byron Coley and Steve Albini mode. Thanks to the creativity and uncompromising attitude of its staff it became something entirely its own.


You’ve already had an incredibly impressive year with releases from Dead in the Manger, Vanhelgd, and Mournful Congregation just to name a few. What lies ahead for 20 Buck Spin this year?

Things in the second half of the year haven’t gone exactly as planned. There’s nothing new about that really but the second half of 2014 won’t be as full of releases as I had intended for a variety of reasons. For this year what remains is the new Foreseen album called “Helsinki Savagery”. It’s one of my favorite albums I’ve ever released. Raw, tough Finnish Crossover, every song an anthem. I’d compare it to something between Vio-lence, Exodus, Cro-Mags and Leeway. Also Pallbearer’s 2010 Demo will be released on vinyl, which is something we’ve been planning to do for a couple years and we finally got around to it. Releases are planned in 2015 from: Ævangelist, Obsequiae, Dead In The Manger, Crimson Scarlet and Abyss (from Toronto #NoTagtgren). There are several others too that I can’t really mention yet but it’s gonna be a killer year. It’s only September but I’m already looking really forward to 2015 which will be a busier year release wise for 20 Buck Spin.


Thanks to Dave for his time. 

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The Retrospective Beast: September 2014

Released thirty years ago on September 3rd, 1984, Iron Maiden’s Powerslave is still kicking metal’s ass and making a joke out of so-called epic releases, songs, bands, tours, etc. Yeah, cool, Iron Maiden released the excellent Piece of Mind just a year earlier, and everyone likes to knot themselves up over The Number of the Beast which is totally understandable. But none of those releases coincide with thirty years ago in the month of September, and more importantly, none of those releases contain the song “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” From 1980 to 1984, Iron Maiden had been throwing left and right hooks to listeners, releasing an album every year all culminating in the KO that was, is, and forever shall remain Powerslave. Eight tracks deep and ten minutes shy of an hour, Iron Maiden’s magnum opus isn’t just their quintessential album, it is the heavy metal album.

1984 was for metal what 1991 was for flannel. Metallica’s Ride the Lightning, Mercyful Fate’s Don’t Break the Oath, Motörhead’s No Remorse, Voivod’s War and Pain, Venom’s At War With Satan, and Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry are just a few on a long list of releases that took 1984 to the music woodshed. Powerslave stands out among the rest for a number of reasons, though. Timing is everything, though, and for a band four deep into an already stellar career Iron Maiden couldn’t have asked for a more serendipitous situation than what 1984 provided. The fact that the lion’s share of the writing process for Powerslave took place in the Bahamas is strangely appropriate. You can’t write songs of that album’s caliber by holing yourself up in a bunker and shutting off the outside world in an attempt to be kvlt or cool or whatever terminology is rattling around the metal hivemind this week.

Detractors not only of Powerslave but also of Iron Maiden and other “silly” metal usually base their disdain on the premise of supposed sincerity. “Metal can only be serious, assholes” said Azrael before putting on his corpsepaint and praying to a tree. Please get real. The only thing silly about the eight songs on Powerslave is not feeling like you’ve just flown to the center of the sun on an eagle made of lightning bolts with battle axes for talons once you’re done listening. Even an instrumental is integral here and goddamn are those things like shooting stars. The fact that bassist Steve Harris wrote the latter track should come as no surprise. Listen to the bassline of “Mariner” and try to explain how it’s not a nearly fourteen-minute-long ode to the four stringed beast.

Powerslave isn’t a great album because of its thematics and antics any more than Master of Reality is a great album because of the album’s wobbly font. Powerslave didn’t take time to earn its keep, and it didn’t have to earn its stripes or grow on listeners. Iron Maiden had to come out swinging because that’s exactly what music needed. The word “epic” is like the morning breath of criticism. It’s repugnant as hell, but it’s never going away so long as people sleep and there are mornings. Some band will release an album that’s good or even great, and some feckless turd will roll out the red carpet that’s now been worn utterly down to an orangish pink hue. Hell, I’ve done it. It happens. But epic is as epic does, and the standard for anyone hoping to employ that word in the heavy metal realm was etched into its history thirty years ago by way of Bruce Dickinson, Dave Murray, Nicko McBrain, Steve Harris, and Adrian Smith. 


 

SIX THINGS TO HEAR:

Cannibal CorpseA Skeletal Domain (Metal Blade)

Death metal’s most successful band didn’t gain that honor by selling out. Quite the opposite in fact. They’ve stuck to their guns and even with a few missteps along the way, no one’s honed the formula quite as well or quite as disgustingly heavy as Cannibal Corpse. A Skeletal Domain is a damn fine death metal album. It’s not innovative. It’s not groundbreaking. It’s not thought-provoking. It’s heavy as fuck and just as brutal. It’s Cannibal Corpse. 

Click here to read SfB’s two-part interview feature with George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher


EarthPrimitive and Deadly (Southern Lord)

Aside from the obvious transition to the inclusion of vocals, Earth’s latest offering is precisely what the band needed to avoid stagnation. It’s a tough row to plow in anything drone because so much depends on so very little compositionally, but Dylan Carlson is nothing if not a madman when it comes to sound and space and how to damn near perfectly and powerfully balance them both.

Click here to read senior contributor Craig Hayes’s review of Primitive and Deadly. 

Click here to read SfB’s special interview feature with Dylan Carlson


KriegTransient (Candlelight)

Krieg’s Neill Jameson is finally getting his proper due. Long before USBM became the thing that goes fantastic with your artisanal fair trade ensemble, Jameson was releasing music and touring relentlessly to a very dedicated and very small few. While much press has been given to Jameson’s prior association with known addict, thief, and liar Blake Judd, the fact is that none of that shit is relevant with regards to the vocalist’s abilities as a musician. Transient is a crowning achievement for Krieg, mainly because it shows a band and the man behind it as far less concerned with sounding any particular way and more focused on each song as its own individual ecosystem of misanthropy and nothingness. It’s a brilliant move of letting go and sinking into what results in an outstanding record. 


YOBClearing the Path to Ascend (Neurot)

YOB’s Mike Scheidt has garnered the respect and admiration of his peers for good reason. He is soft-spoken and kindhearted and not given to the typical macho bullshit that too often flies the banner for heavy metal. On Clearing the Path to Ascend, YOB’s first since 2011’s Atma, Scheidt’s connectivity to both the light and the darkness is downright palpable. Each song bears the weight of a dual pain and release that’s as soaring as it is eviscerating. The fact that it all culminates in the absolutely gorgeous “Marrow” is a powerful testament that YOB are just as adept at creating sonic landscapes as they are at leveling them. 

Click here to listen to Scheidt on the SfB podcast. 


ӔvangelistWrithes in the Murk (Debemur Morti)

Tossing two different sounds together does not make you an innovator. Blending thirty different sounds together does not make you a pioneer for the genre. It more or less means you’re adept at tossing shit together. Ævangelist avoid the pitfall of weird for weird’s sake by putting more bite into their songs than bark. That is, the atmospherics aren’t decorative. They’re essential. The music on Writhes in the Murk sounds chaotic enough to be unnerving and interesting enough to make you want the feeling. It sounds easy enough, but it’s hard to cash in on something equitable to the image you’ve sold your listener. Thankfully Ævangelist make more than good on the promise indicated by the album’s title. This music is parasitic in every good way, burrowing into every dark corner of each composition until the light has nowhere to escape. 


Witch MountainMobile of Angels (Profound Lore)

It’s almost poetic that doom mainstays Witch Mountain would create their finest album to date on the heels of vocalist Uta Plotkin’s announcement that it would be her last with the band. The news seems devastating at first but giving consideration to Witch Mountain’s history (well before Plotkin joined), it’s anything but a deathblow. Mobile of Angels is the sound of a band unconcerned with sounding like anything but themselves. If it sounds strange, consider Cannibal Corpse again. There’s a plot line and there’s a formula to what works and doesn’t work for every band, regardless of how well they may sell themselves as free jazz innovators of the metal realm. Barf. Finding a place of comfort for yourselves as musicians isn’t just hard work, it can be nearly impossible if distractions and pressures aren’t put in their place. Witch Mountain sound as comfortable and focused as they ever have on Mobile of Angels, and it’s a welcomed sign even for a band whose future is simply unseen but not unsure.


SIX THINGS TO KNOW:

September 18th, 1970 – Black Sabbath’s Paranoid is released in the UK. Tony Iommi’s half nub receives Knighthood for the leadout on “Iron Man”.


September 1981 – Bruce Dickinson auditions for Iron Maiden and is immediately hired thanks to his ability to move entire planetary systems with his voice.


September 7th, 1984 – Mercyful Fate’s Don’t Break the Oath is released inadvertently causing parents everywhere to be confused regarding whether to be more upset about the devil  on the cover or his uncouth finger pointing.


September 1991 – Beherit’s compilation The Oath of Black Blood is released as an unfuckwithable middle finger to everyone talking about Sweden and Norway as the only places for genuinely bugfuck bananas black metal.


September 26th, 2000 – Lamb of God release their second full-length entitled New American Gospel – an outstanding album considering the context of its release and the mainstream success it foreshadowed for bands like Mastodon.


September 27th, 2011 – Doom metal overlords Unearthly Trance release their fifth and what would become their final full-length, V.


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Shadows At The Gate: A Conversation With King Diamond

King Diamond is just two years shy of turning sixty. It’s an important note given the fact that if it weren’t for the slightly smoke-worn voice on the other end of the phone, you’d swear you were talking to a young musician on the cusp of a huge career break. Four decades of playing in bands would understandably wear a musician down somewhat if only for physical reasons. King Diamond has had his share of those as well, culminating in a 2010 triple bypass that would signal a completely reasonable career end for any other artist. The man born Kim Bendix Petersen in Copenhagen, Denmark, however, remains undaunted and unhindered. The man behind both Mercyful Fate and the band bearing his namesake is in it because he loves it, and while that tired rock and roll trope of “being in love with this music” is well beyond cliché, King Diamond puts his money where his mouth is and in ways that put many artists and musicians half his age to shame.

You’d be hard pressed to find a metalhead whose formative years fell in the 80s that wasn’t equal parts terrified and fascinated with the album covers of Abigail or Don’t Break the Oath while searching through the rock/metal section as a kid. Combine that with King Diamond’s signature face paint and that sneer, and you have the embodiment of all that is ridiculous and wonderful about heavy metal. It’s not to say that this music is not to be taken seriously or that King Diamond is not religiously devoted to the art of his music and performance. Heavy metal’s theatrics are too often viewed with flippant disdain and dismissiveness, with the droning face-to-the-floor detachment lauded as a more worthy and artistically viable aesthetic. What horseshit.

The value of performance is not exclusive to heavy metal, but no genre of music has ever marketed, branded, developed, and executed it so well as the masked, costumed, and painted bands and artists that called out to so many of us from the glut of perms and recycled riffs. No matter how far down the rabbit hole we might find ourselves as metal fans, delving into all the extremities this genre has to offer, the roots of our fandom were inevitably planted in a fear and fascination with the visual. For those fans as eager to embrace the theatrical as they are the supposedly cerebral with heavy metal, King Diamond remains the champion of the darkness and a reminder of everything great and untouchable about this music. SfB recently spoke with King Diamond about his beginnings, making his first instrument, and more in this special feature.

My first question, King, just has to do with the upcoming US tour. This is something that so many fans have been waiting for, and it’s exciting and inspiring to see you still continuing to show the rest of the metal world how it’s done after all these years. Thinking about that timespan and going as far back as your time with Brainstorm and all that you’ve accomplished since then, what do you see as that primary source of inspiration for you that keeps you going?

It was always there. I think I started very early without really being aware of it myself. Back when I was very young, before I even got my first turntable, my first you could say interaction with music was what we called in Europe a transistor radio. It was like a little mono radio with an antenna, and it would actually have a mono-cassette deck in it and one speed. So I would sit in the corner and record songs from the radio. Even back then I would start fiddling with sound. I would build a little megaphone almost out of cardboard to get more sound out and spread it out there. So early on I would sit and do weird things with sound. My first guitar, if you can call it that, was a piece of wood with two nails in it and an elastic band between them. I actually recorded that.

I don’t have it now, but I recorded it onto a reel-to-reel tape recorder when I first got a reel-to-reel tape recorder. I sat there and went [makes guitar sounds] and recorded that, and I would record me hitting something and it could bounce tracks. It was a four-track so it could bounce tracks in pairs, so without really knowing it I think I started very early. And then later on my dad would take two speakers – well, he didn’t really use speakers, it was just the unit that he put a wood plate in front of and drilled holes in, and there were different sides behind those two plates that looked the same so they looked okay up on the wall, but I remember back then recording onto my reel-to-reel Led Zeppelin’s second album at that time and hearing “What Is and What Should Never Be” when it goes back and forth, and of course the freak-out thing in “Whole Lotta Love.”

Those things going on in your childhood room it was like “Ahhh!” It was almost too much, you know. From early on and moving sound around and making things, though, I guess it started early. The first guitar, I saved up money to buy an electric guitar, and in some way you can see how much I was doing it on my own. I did not know that I needed something to create that sound of Jimmy Page that he had on the first Zeppelin album. I didn’t know that I would have to have an amplifier probably and a cabinet and so on. It was after I had gotten a guitar, and I didn’t understand why it didn’t sound anything like it whatsoever, and there was some grownups that told me “No, you need something. You need ‘this and that.’” An electronics mechanic bought the components for it, and him and I built it. Of course he built and I looked.

But we built some cabinets out of wood and put some twelve inches in, and that was my first thing. I remember there was an “On” button that was red, and then were was the black button that was the distortion button. But that’s really, really far, far back. That was before Brainstorm, and about the time I had started the first rendition of Brainstorm with a couple of classmates, and we would have rehearsals in the library where if you lived in that city you could rent these rooms for three dollars for twice a week or something like that, so we did that. That was early, early. Way back. [Laughs]

 

Longevity is something of a rarity in this business with egos and creative laziness often serving to gradually relegate bands and artists into irrelevance, but you’ve avoided that pitfall completely.

The funny thing is that this time is actually the best time to see us and hear us, because the band as it is now has never been as tight. We’ve never had such a great crew creating and working with our sound, getting it through the right way. Our sound engineer Pontus Norgren is the guitarist for Hammerfall, and what a mindblowing approach he has to it. People are freaking out when they hear us these days because of how the old-fashioned King Diamond style of sound is coming through, which not everybody can grasp and make work.

The production that we have now – we’ve never had such a big production or such a well-thought-out thing, but you’re gonna see we’re gonna bring the entire production. We just played the biggest music festival in Europe pretty much. We headlined the Black Stage for 92,000 in Germany, and it’s stacked production that goes into it. I know they’re expanding the stage in Atlanta to fit it all, but it’s gonna be there. We tried it out at a couple of pre-shows in Europe just to try to see it with the whole production, and in Berlin we played it with the whole thing. All the stages that we’re gonna play on the US tour have been measured, but it’s probably gonna be something you’ve never seen that big in some of those places. The whole thing is there.

 

Showmanship and theatrics are two things you helped pioneer for this genre. I’m curious to know where that came from for you initially. Was there a specific moment for you where that influence clicked?

Absolutely. I’ve said many times before that Alice Cooper has been an inspiration you could say. When I saw him in ’75 on the Welcome to My Nightmare tour in Copenhagen, it was whoa. That was really something that you could take a lot of memories back home. The next time you listened to those songs it would all come out again. I still remember to this day, but before that actually in ’74 I saw Genesis with Peter Gabriel, and none of my other heavy music friends wanted to go see them. “Ah, it’s not heavy enough!” And I’m like “It is heavy! Have you listened to it and given it a chance?!” I was like that. [Laughs] And they played the entire The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway which is not that heavy. It’s the double album from 1974, but then they played afterwards “The Knife” from their first album or from that Trespass album.

Then they played “Return of the Giant Hogweed” and “The Musical Box” – they had a lot of those, and they are pretty heavy songs. It was amazing! Peter Gabriel was having these wings on his head. He would start up suddenly, they would shine the light up to the ceiling and there he was hanging from these wires, but you couldn’t see the wires because he was hanging up there. Then he moved his feet, and he would walk on the air. You couldn’t see the wires, so you were like “What?!” Then he went through all these different costumes throughout.

Unbelievable stuff. Absolutely unbelievable stuff, so that’s where I first kind of saw real theatrical production. Because before that I had seen Deep Purple and the other bands that were great to see and stuff, but it was not that theatrical. Anywhere close. They had three screens that consistently changed. You couldn’t see the change because they were fluently changing the pictures. It was not a movie, but there were stills, and it was changing the whole time showing the storyline behind them. I couldn’t believe it. That was really one of the big ones for me.

 

 

Was Genesis also a musical influence for you in addition to the heavy standbys like Led Zeppelin and others?

Absolutely. I mean, Genesis big time for the show part and also they had an eclectic influence of music. The way they arranged their stuff – there’s things that stick with you that you get influenced by. My favorite singer of all time was David Byron of Uriah Heep, but he’s not with us anymore. He’s the absolute favorite of mine. But there’s so many bands from back then that I grew up with that I love. I went to all these concerts. I saw UFO with Mike Schenker back in ’74, and I never saw Michael Schenker’s face. I just saw this blonde hair hanging down, and he stood there with his Flying V. I saw Sex Pistols back then, the Runaways, Thin Lizzy, and I saw Uriah Heep – I mentioned – five times with David Byron. I saw Deep Purple in ’72 where Lars Ulrich was at his first concert ever. That was that same concert in Denmark with Deep Purple.

Later on I saw the world premier of David Coverdale with Deep Purple in ’74. Grand Funk Railroad was my first concert of all time in ’71! And the Who supported them, and I’d been standing outside something called The Falconer Theatre in Denmark in snow and rain waiting for Geezer Butler coming out giving something that looked like a “G” on a piece of paper. [Laughs] The first time I ever saw a laser in action was with Blue Öyster Cult in ’76 I think it was, and at that same show was Thin Lizzy watching! They stood out in the bar among everybody else. I’d seen them two days before in something called Hard Rock Café at that time, and they were there, and so I got autographs and all this stuff. Back when I saw a band called Geordie with Brian Johnson from AC/DC in it. I saw them three times with him before he joined AC/DC.

All of these in small clubs in Denmark, you know. [Laughs] I went to so many concerts back then and collected autographs. I saw Budgie – it must have been December ’75, they played a small place where we actually had played too with Mercy, and it was the 22nd of December. Right before Christmas, and they had a Christmas tree right in the middle of this little place where they played and there was about twelve hippies and twelve heavy rockers you could say. That was it. Me and some friends were there to see them, and then there was twelve hippes standing around this Christmas tree, and I was like “Are you kidding, man?” [Laughs]

 

You’ve had the opportunity to see this genre go through virtually every stage of its evolution so far. What’s been the most significant change from your perspective in the years since you first began creating your own music?

That whole thing has been very strange for us and different from most others, I think. Because we never followed any trends whatsoever. We always did what we felt was right inside. No one told us, even the labels they didn’t tell us “No, you need to do more like this or change your sound to that” because we would not listen to them. If they did we’d be like “If you want that then find someone else willing to do that because why would you destroy us or change us? You can just as well find someone else then if you want to mold us into something that you want. That’s not us.” We’ve always had that total artistic freedom. With Roadrunner they tried something once, but it never worked whoever they tried to put on us. There were times when they tried that, and it did not work. We did not want to do those things.

We wanted to do what we felt inside. I think that’s one of the reasons the fans know they can always trust us. It’s from the heart. Things like it’s going to be pretty straightforward and powerful and get it done and do it the best way it can possibly be done when we do the US tour. There’s not gonna be any meet and greets and that kind of stuff. We’ve done some in Europe, but the thing is we don’t do those things where you can pay. We will never have people pay for a meet and greet. We’ve never done that in Europe either. We do not do those things. Not that way. You cannot pay to meet and greet us. We set them up sometimes with radio stations, and you win the chance to come and say “Hi” and you talk to us and get certain things signed. I like to hear why you wanna have those things signed and then sit and talk, and we try to do it if possible when we’ve had the chance at the venues.

If it fits in we try to match it up where you can come in and check the soundcheck out. If I was able to do that with Uriah Heep or something it would’ve been one of the things I would never forget. That stuff is having respect for that two-way street. None of us can do it alone. You have to always remember there are so many things that are needed to make the wheels turn, and we are very much aware of that. There are so many things, but we’ve been on that road a while now, and it doesn’t stop. It’s actually sped up a bit now. Sometimes you’ll see someone get on the road and “Zoom! Zoom! Zoom!” Three gold albums, and it’s like “Wow!” Then suddenly it’s “What happened? Where are they now?” And those things have certainly happened more often than not. It never happened to us. I don’t regret that. That’s not what I’m doing this for.

But we’re still here after all these years, and actually we’re doing better now than we have ever done. Right now is the right time to see us because we are really better than ever. We’ve finally gotten to a point where we can realize those things that people like to present to other people and do it the right way. Just to be able to bring out the cremation scene again onstage with the doctor and the priest. I mean, you know when you see the whole set and the way it works, the way it’s used. We don’t just go in and stand in front of a nice set. We use it. That’s another thing also when you talk about the health and stuff. Being in good shape and not just in not smoking but for changing the diet and working out the right way for the heart and all these things. When shows are on we play for an hour and a half full power, and I’m not tired. Before I would be gasping for air sometimes!

Now I sit in the car and talk all the way home. It’s different. It’s very different now. A lot of good came out of that bad thing. The music, the timing, things coming full circle, and then being able to do what we do has a lot to do with the people we’re working with, too. We have the best booking agent you can find, and the label we have personal friends there, and we all want the same thing. We all want to go out and entertain in the best way we can. The band is absolutely amazing, and the absolute best people to work with. They make you feel confident. We don’t go onstage and wonder “Oh man, what’s gonna go wrong today.” No, now we just go onstage and look forward to it and say “Now, they’re going to freak when they see and hear this stuff.”

 

photo credit: Laszlo

It’s going to be interesting to see this new generation of King Diamond fans coming out to the show with their parents who were, like me, probably scared to death when we first discovered you.

Oh it’s never been about shock. It’s never been about that. It’s been about LaVey and that philosophy. I carry a personal handwritten letter from LaVey with me at all times on tour. I mean, I have it with me always. There’s a thing in what we do – it’s a certain mood about the whole thing. Once the front drop goes and the intro starts, and you see what it looks like I guarantee you’ll get thrilled and chills. It’s very powerful I can tell you. Just to see what it looks like when the whole thing starts. The anticipation that you’re gonna have when that thing drops, and then you’re gonna see what it looks like will give you this “Oh man, what now? What now?” Then when it starts and it starts going, and you get thrown left and right and back and forth – it’s very, very precise what we do. You go see it the very next day it will look just the same.

I heard something cool recently. We played that Wacken Festival, and there was 92,000 people, and we had played Berlin two days earlier or three days earlier in a small theater indoor, and there was one guy, and I always read comments from our fans on Facebook, and this guy saw the pictures that we had just loaded up at that time from Wacken, and he said “OK, if I didn’t know better I would say this was from Berlin, and that was pictures from a festival with 92,000 people. The whole stage, the whole setup, and everything there – it looked exactly the same. He couldn’t tell the difference which is the way it should be. That’s the stage we’re bringing. Every bit of it.

 

Your vocal style is something that, maybe more than anything else, is the most distinctive thing about King Diamond and Mercyful Fate. There’s a lot of homogenization with vocal styles in metal, but I’m curious as to how in the hell you discovered your particular style?

It’s coincidence, and over the years a fan of Black Rose – it’s a coincidence that I even became the singer because I played guitar in Brain Storm, and then that band stopped and were looking for someone else, and I found an ad in a grocery store: “Band’s Looking For Vocalist,” and I was thinking “Ah, I can sneak in as a vocalist/guitarist even though I never sang in my life. I can just sneak in and pretend to vocals and go ahead and play guitar.” But they were “No, no, no, they had guitarists already.” They were playing Deep Purple and Rainbow covers, and they didn’t even have a keyboard player. I said “What?! Well okay, whatever.” I went out to a test rehearsal, and they were like “Do you know space rock and Deep Purple?” And I’m like “Yeah, of course I know it, but I’ve never sung it,” and Gillan was one of my favorite singers at the time, so I guess I was just the best screamer that they’d heard at the time, and then you come home and you have no voice.

You’ve been rehearsing, and it’s because I wasn’t singing, I was just screaming. [Laughs] But then it came down to Black Rose, and they got a keyboard player, and the new guy came in and it was suddenly a very, very skillful band. My god. Eventually you start singing, and you develop certain things. I figured out myself that I could better hold notes longer if I really tightened up my stomach muscles and controlled the airflow from down there. No one told me that. I never had a lesson. Even with guitars I’m like that. People will ask “What’s that you’re playing there,” and I’m like “Don’t ask me, man.” It looks like this and this and this. [Laughs] But that’s what it is. I can’t read music. I’ve never had a lesson for vocals, but that also means that I’m not hindered by all the rules in music.

But it was actually that I learned something and got somewhere when someone came to me one day and said you should use falsetto some more, and when he said that I was like “Ohh, what is that?” And he said “When you sing high it really sounds good when you do it.” So I tried working harder on that simply because this guy said it, and that’s how it got started and developing into the stuff with Black Rose and early Mercyful Fate and all that stuff. You always keep your ears open and your mind open, you’ll never get too old to learn stuff no matter what it’s about. You can always learn something.

Thanks to King for his time.

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Set Water to Flames: A Conversation With Geneviève Beaulieu of Menace Ruine

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photo credit: Justine Murphy

The voice of Geneviève Beaulieu moves over the music of Menace Ruine with exacting purpose and power. It’s not delicate in the sense that’s too often associated with female vocalists in a male-dominated genre like metal. Beaulieu’s voice is a daunting force willfully possessing the songs of the two-piece Canadian band without overpowering the overall compositions themselves. There is a vulnerability and a nearly unnerving sense of connectivity Beaulieu seems to share with her music and the subject matter of her lyrics which find equal footing in both the ethereal and the strikingly real spectrums of existence. Along with fellow member S. de La Moth, Beaulieu has taken the seven years of Menace Ruine’s existence so far to establish an incredibly singular place within a genre seemingly devoid of new or interesting ideas. SfB had the opportunity to ask Beaulieu a few questions about her music and about the upcoming Menace Ruine full-length, Venus Armata (Profound Lore).

Looking over the lyrics to Menace Ruine’s songs it’s immediately apparent that you place a great deal of importance on them. It’s a kind of rarity in extreme music where the temptation for many artists seems to be to view the lyrics as a peripheral or secondary entity to the music. With that, how do you personally see the relationship between the music and the lyrics, and is that a perspective you’ve always held or one you’ve gradually discovered as an artist?

The lyrics in Menace Ruine are indeed an essential part of the work, and have gained in importance through years, to the point they are now on an equal footing with the music, on this new album at least, and enlightening it. When I start from nothing and the music appears, those wordless songs are still a mystery to me. They become vessels that usually need to be filled with words, but they could not contain anything… I feel that this energy I was empowered by, and to which I gave a musical form, needs specific words to gain its full existence and meaning. It is always the most laborious part for me, but I am not afraid anymore of the danger of naming things. It was less conscious at the beginning, on In Vulva Infernum and Cult Of Ruins for instance, I was overwhelmed by this new musical direction but still keeping a certain distance from some of the subjects.

The process was a bit less ‘magical’ than it is now. With The Die is Cast, the words literally drove the music as they were exceptionally written beforehand, and a new path of exploration was paved, on both psychological and symbolic planes. I really have the impression now to put the right words on what I do, the ones that were meant to be there, in order to really speak with the music. It is soothing to know that they already exist, are only hidden, and that my mission is to find them. I have to keep that constantly in mind to avoid going crazy in the writing process… This is pretty much my relationship with the MR’s lyrics now, and theirs with the music. Words have been ‘important’ in my past musical projects also, even when I was young and singing nonsense, I put a lot of work into it - wasted so much time.

Light years away from my work in MR now, and totally disconnected from my soul. I have been writing since I am a teenager, mostly poems, short stories sometimes, and have undertaken some literature studies, but gave up school soon enough to make music. I only write for music now, and in a second language, English, for sonority concerns mostly, but find this language highly poetic ! I love words, their power, and maybe if I am wise enough someday, I will be able to write without any musical support, in my mother tongue again, but music is truly my primal artistic form of expression.

 

Are your lyrics more informed by way of experience or environment, or is it a dual existence of both for you creatively?

My lyrics are more the reflection of my personal experience combined with some inspiring readings, that stimulate my instinctive exploration of symbolism and darkest energies. It has become a spiritual quest for light and healing I guess… a bit hard for me to describe because it is, for the most part, and instinctive process, without program.  I’ve never been inspired by my environment so far. Hopefully I can make abstraction of it when it comes to creation. In the past year and a half, it became more and more difficult to extract ourselves from our white trash urban surroundings, until it became downright suffocating. We recently moved in the countryside, in the woods, without neighbours, and are totally amazed by the magic around us. We can feel the nature breathe, and even the house is breathing, and for the first time of my life, I feel part of it, and at home. I will not try to escape my environment but will embrace it this time. Pretty sure it will have an impact on our creativity. I am already inspired!

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photo credit: Amalgam/Letmo

With Venus Armata as Menace Ruine’s fifth full-length do you see the relationship you have with the music you create as a kind of constantly evolving plane or more as a steady continuum from which you’re able to draw at various points?

Hmm, a bit of both, if it is possible… I see myself evolving musically and personally (both as a person and as a musician) through this project, and the music is evolving with me. But I also understand more and more that Menace Ruine is a steady and sustainable fire, that will be there as long as I will need it. I like to see it as my magical vehicle, and draw energy and inspiration from this journeying. The process is more and more conscious, and powerful as it gains in consciousness I guess.

 

What does the creative process for Menace Ruine typically look like? Is it a purely collaborative effort between the two of you, or is it more of an individual effort that you both bring together in congruency as the final step?

I am responsible for most of the music (this is the reason why I speak in the first person so often in the interviews). I usually go explore sounds at our rehearsal space, when I feel there is something to be found, which usually leads to an album. So a bunch of pieces appear, at synth and vocals first, in their almost definitive structure. Then is the time for me to work on the lyrics, and begin the recordings as the other parts are being composed. Steve’s tasks are in the latest stages, programming the beats when they are needed, doing the artwork and design accompanying the lyrical themes, and mixing the final tracks. It can happen that he contributes to music also, and I add my parts, like “Torture of Fire” on this album, but it is pretty rare. I am not a dictator though, and would never work on something he doesn’t like, and his musical contributions are always welcomed, but as he says, I am the one with the ‘connection.’ We are an extremely complementary pair, both in our everyday lives and through this musical project.

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photo credit: Pedro Roque 

Is the process of creation one that’s fairly easy for you, or does it present a kind of resistance and challenge that rewards you in the same way creatively?

Music is very natural to me, so the composition is, most of the time, painless and invigorating. The challenge comes with the lyrics, though I enjoy this task also. It is the point where things become serious, that I have to be constantly focused and receptive…. Still an instinctive work at that point, but with a big part of conscious thinking, and I am always drained when it is all done. It is certainly the most rewarding part of the job.

 

Where did music first find you? Was there a specific moment where you knew that creating music was what you had to do?

I was already singing as a little girl, secretly wishing to become a singer. When I learned guitar in my teenage years, and because I was quite shy, I continued singing but thought that playing guitar in a band would be more appropriate for me because I could stay behind. I kind of always knew I would do music, but it took me several years to fully assume it, gain confidence and develop my skills, and do something that was totally aligned with my true self. A slow process, but I am thankful to still be making music, turning 40 this Fall, with all the positive experience and knowledge gained throughout those years, feeling free and more inspired than ever in my life

Was there a specific artist or even album or song that worked as that sort of initial creative catalyst for you in the beginning?

No. Or maybe I prefer not to remember.

 

What do you see as the most significant change or point of growth for you as a musician since you first began writing your own music?

It came with Menace Ruine, and was the main purpose of this project indeed, which is to release the energy freely, without being scared of emotional drives, nor the darkness of the music, without hiding behind aesthetics, ironic or theatrical postures, just exploring, be true to ourselves and follow our own musical way… It turned out to be a brilliant insight because as soon as the dyke was blown away, the inspiration became fluid and was always renewed since. Through this project, I learned not to fear the fire inside, nor any other fire, but trying to tame it instead, and feed it with care and respect… and this applies to any musical project I have been involved since, and to the future ones, because there is no other way I want to make music.

 

With the impending release of Venus Armata next month, what lies ahead for Menace Ruine? Can we expect some tour appearances here in the US?

We are preparing for a long winter of creative reclusion, with lots of snow I hope! It will be majestic here! Then, Spring will end this cycle of isolation and we will be ready to return to stage; we have already agreed on a couple of shows next year: one in Montreal and one in NYC. Otherwise, we’ll see what life will put in our way.

Thanks to Geneviève for her time.

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