Dayal Patterson is the creative mind behind Cult Never Dies publishing house and clothing line. A long-time writer, photographer, and artist, he is the author of a number of books documenting the history of black metal music, most notably Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult, which provides an unparalleled look into the black metal scene and includes interviews with some of the most influential acts in the scene. I caught up with him to discuss the history of the black metal scene, his activities with Cult Never Dies, and how the scene is changing in today’s global climate.
Thanks for making the time, man. So I want to start with the most important question of all. What are you listening to these days?
Ah, starting with the hardest question; how much time do you have? (laughs) I guess it is no surprise that black metal remains at the top of my list and I am still trying to discover new bands or new recordings as much as possible – that tending to be split between newer bands and older bands that I might have passed by. Besides that I listen to a lot of other metal (doom and death metal for example) as well as cherrypicking recordings I like from pretty much every genre you could name, excluding modern RnB and country.
So very recently I’ve been listening to the new Ulver album, new Winterfylleth, Sauron, NRVK, new Helheim, Sabbath Assembly, Vybz Kartel, Archgoat, Hanoi Rocks, new Fen, Hetroertzen, Ulcer, Sarinvomit, Outre, Rotting Christ, Thy Worshiper and Death Worship.
The new Ulver is quite amazing indeed and I’ll get to the current BM scene in a bit. But I want to go straight to your research and writing career first. In our previous conversation I mentioned this to you, but to provide a bit of context: I’m a huge fan of your book, Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult, as you know, and have used it extensively in my own research. It taps into a side of the history of the genre that doesn’t get talked about at all, that is, the personal narratives and histories of the artists themselves. What was the main motivation for wanting to document the history of the scene the way it appears in the book?
I think it probably comes down to two reasons. Firstly, because I feel it’s important to set the record straight and present the story of black metal directly, using the voices of the people involved and with their cooperation, rather than have writers/directors from outside the scene continue to present their concept of black metal and black metal history. And secondly, because of a strong personal curiosity I have regarding the effect that human motivations and personalities have upon art and its development.
This book series for me is as much about the strong personalities behind the music as the music itself and these are two elements I try to keep in balance. Very few black metal musicians make black metal just for the sake of music or out of boredom or to get girls or whatever, there is usually some deeper ideology or drive there and I think that’s very interesting to explore. I think the reader (and myself of course) benefits from understanding the drive behind the creations. I think that adds to the experience, even if the art stands up by itself.
That brings up an interesting dichotomy in terms of the motivations, ideologies, and expectations of the producers, on the one hand, and consumers on the other. As a mediator, insider, and somebody who writes objectively, what would you say the biggest misconceptions individuals (both consumers and scene outsiders) have about the black metal scene or artists?
I think the biggest misconception (held by many insiders and outsiders alike) is that the black metal genre can be easily defined by a simple set of values, be they spiritual, musical, ideological, political, aesthetic or anything else. I think it’s impossible to pigeonhole the movement in that sense because it’s always been so broad and full of contradictions. For every significant band that states that black metal must be Satanic, you’ll find another that states the opposite. For every band that promotes musical traditionalism, you’ll find one that lives to push the boundaries of the genre. And so on.
People within the scene, be they artists or fans, often have strong opinions about what is and what is not black metal, but of course these aren’t always in alignment. And I think a lot of people on the outside of black metal have a pretty simplistic view of black metal that is based on the caricature that grew out of the early 90s scene and its depiction in the media (ie. black metal is about corpsepainted devil worshippers who all come from Norway and so on).
You know I’m fascinated with exploring these existential questions—much of the scenes literature both academic and historical, suggest that scenes are living organisms, they are born, grow and evolve—so if you were to put a fullstop to the black metal story at this point in its history, what are we to take away from it? What would you say has been its biggest accomplishments, failures, and how does its history inform our current understanding of the scene in its totality (including the global fans, producers, and institutions)?
I realise I’m dodging the question slightly but I think the point might be that black metal is still expanding and that it would appear to have a pretty bright future. I’m not sure there have ever been more listeners to its various incarnations than there are today and we are at a point where the movement is actually quite fractured and multi-faceted.
The internet allows people to pursue and explore even the smallest of niches and black metal is a good example of that–you will find people who only listen to 80s black metal or DSBM or 90s Scandinavian black metal or post black metal or war metal and so on. And each year new bands appear, some of whom cling firmly to conservative values, some of whom present sounds that could never have been predicted a decade earlier but which are still undeniably black metal in nature.
In that sense I think it is quite different to, say, death metal. So I think the greatest achievement of black metal is its longevity and vitality. With regards to how the history effects our understanding of the totality…well I think that (like so many things) the more you look at what has come before and why it came before, the more you get from what is happening now. Perhaps there is also something of a generation gap appearing now, with some younger fans seeing greater relevance in contemporary bands than the 90s forefathers.
And interestingly, some of those narratives of individuality or nativity are shifting as well with so many black metal bands from South and Central America, Asia, and even the Middle East signing to small labels in Europe and elsewhere.
Yes, for sure black metal has always been a global movement and is becoming more so by the day – again, due in large part to the effect of the internet I would say. I think another important result of this is that the concept of “underground” is very different than in the 80s or 90s, because you can find almost any band or recording in just a few minutes by going online. And many people are aware of black metal’s existence even if they never listened to it, so the movement as a whole is no longer hidden.
The book has gone from being primarily about the history of music to also serving as a fantastic source of scholarly research as well. I know you’re in touch with scholars of music and academics conducting research on “metal studies.” What has that experience been like for you? Did you expect such a wide readership when you were working on it initially?
Haha, it’s a little one-sided because I rarely if ever see the results. A lot of people tell me that they’ve used my books for their research but even those who have sent me questions never remember to send the final piece over! But I’m happy for people to use a work that has so much first-hand research, because what I don’t like is the academics who write about black metal (or anything else for that matter) without a care for empirical data. I’ve read quite a few pieces about black metal that were full of convoluted theories and very little interest in whether there was any evidence for these intellectual flights of fancy. I think that stuff is a bit too self-indulgent to be of much worth. I’m not sure if I expected academics to be interested in my work, but for sure I was interested in writing for both longtime fans and newcomers with that first book. I should add that there are some academics creating work that actually tells us more about what is happening within the metal scene – for example, how economic and political factors shape local scenes and so on.
Haha, yeah some of the research out there is just…anyway, one last existential question and we’ll move on to more current issues I promise! You mentioned how the concept of “underground” has completely changed and that the genre is now more popular and eclectic than ever. Where do you see black metal in the near future both aesthetically and as an enterprise? Are there any macro trends or new bands that you’re excited about that are, or could, in the near future, fundamentally alter the course of the scene?
It’s all just moving so quickly in so many directions that it’s hard to know where to begin. But certainly you can see that the “hoods and occult ritual” approach has become something of a defining aesthetic for a lot of bands, to the point where I wonder if it’s become something of a uniform. Though I suppose you could say the same of corpsepaint in earlier times.
You set up your own publishing and clothing company, Cult Never Dies, in 2013. Tell us a bit about your activities and how and why you came up with the idea to establish it in the first place. What do you aim to do with Cult Never Dies?
Cult Never Dies is primarily a vehicle for me to release books and clothing that would otherwise not exist (or in the case of the clothing, some of it would exist but in bootleg form). Even before I released Black Metal: Evolution Of The Cult in late 2013 it was clear that I had other material that needed to see the light of the day, and to that end I released the Black Metal: Prelude To The Cult mini-book as a companion to Evolution, and included interviews with bands such as Taake, Enthroned, Hades Almighty, Clandestine Blaze and more that didn’t make it into the main book due to space.
It immediately became clear that with enough work (and some help) Cult Never Dies could also be used for the release of the first sequel Black Metal: The Cult Never Dies Vol One and that went so well that I have used it for the release of two more books, namely Black Metal: Into The Abyss and Cult Never Dies: The Mega Zine as well as shirts and hoodies by bands such as Ulver, Beherit, Mysticum, Helheim, Loits, Rotting Christ, Koldbrann, Dodheimsgard and so on – in other words, bands that have been interviewed in the book project.
We’ve also been involved in putting on the debut UK shows for bands such as Lifelover, Hypothermia, Cult Of Fire, Saturnalia Temple, Mastiphal and more, plus exhibitions by artists like Ester Segarra and Christophe Szpajdel. At this point my aim is to make clear that Cult Never Dies is not just a publishing house for books by Dayal Patterson, if you see what I mean. I will continue to write and release books of course, but the books that are coming up in the next year are either only co-written by me or not written by me at all.
Our next release for example, is called Owls, Trolls & Dead Kings’ Skulls: The Art of David Thiérrée and is an art book showcasing the art of the titular artist, who has produced creations for bands such Behemoth, Strid, Celestia, Warloghe, Gorgoroth and many more, as well as completely non-music-related dark folk/fantasy works. So this gives some idea of what I want Cult Never Dies to provide, namely a vehicle for works on underground music and art that would be unlikely to be picked up by anyone else. And everyone involved in Cult Never Dies has been involved for a long time in extreme and underground metal, so it’s very much by devotees for devotees I would say. Although that said, I think the appeal of a book like Owls is very much like that of Evolution in that it is possible to enjoy for those outside of any specific scene.
That’s pretty neat. Do you solicit submissions or handpick the artists you want to feature?
So far things have evolved quite naturally with people we were already dealing with, and people aren’t necessarily aware of our intentions as a publisher so we aren’t really being inundated with submissions yet. That said, since the first book, some bands have made contact and made it known that they would be willing to be involved in the book project. This makes things move far more quickly than the early days of writing Evolution when I had to explain to each musician I approached exactly what I envisioned for the final project and how it would differ from all the books/articles that came before. This is one advantage of having a few books out – anyone who is unsure of the intentions can simply see what has already been released.
Looking forward to the future releases. Are there any plans for the future that may include Cult Never Dies expanding into new territories of music/literature/art or any other field for that matter?
Well definitely the visual arts–the launching point being artists involved within the black/underground metal scene but potentially expanding to include art books showcasing painters and other visual artists whose aesthetic and ambience compliments this sort of music, rather than necessarily being directly related.
This approach might also be suitable for works of literature, although this needs some more thought I think. In terms of other forms of music, the last book Cult Never Dies: The Mega Zine expanded beyond black metal somewhat to include bands such as In The Woods… and Reverend Bizarre, so there is definitely a will to explore other metal genres such as doom and death metal. Non-metal genres such as dark ambient might also be compatible, but that said, I would probably want to lean toward the side of caution in not straying too far from our core too quickly. And after all, there is still much to say within extreme/underground metal, even within black metal.
And finally, I’m currently reading the excellent Cult Never Dies: The Mega Zine, where you are interviewing Ester Segarra and ask her a very personal question. I’m going to turn the tables on you and ask the same question you had for her, primarily for those who might not have read the preface to Evolution. Where do you think your passion for black metal springs from and can you tell me what the genre means to you personally? Didn’t think you’d be interviewing yourself tonight did you?
Haha no, that’s bitten me in the foot hasn’t it? It’s a tough question, but I think my passion for black metal is the same as for most people who are passionate about black metal, that is, a spiritual/psychological connection with the dark ambience within the music and general aesthetic. I think one can debate why some of us feel this attraction and some don’t, and for sure you can find such feelings elsewhere (hence the affinity for certain types of landscapes and locations among black metal people I think), but I think at the root of it is an appreciation for art and a desire for emotional stimulation, these two things married to something that is harder to define, namely a desire to negate certain aspects of our daily lives – aspects of society, people, modern living and so on. And at a more literal level I think my desire for black metal is its extremity, the passion of its creators and its huge variety of manifestations. Black metal is so broad a genre that–for me at least–it is very hard to get bored of it.
Thanks for making the time to chat, man. I had a blast. Feel free to add anything else you wish.
Thank you for the interview, the questions were much more thoughtful and interesting than many of the ones I receive.
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