Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mutank, Annihilator, Bison: more metal from me!

Not sure why but I seem to be going through my third metal phase lately. The first was in the early 1980's, where - after spending some time proclaiming that the Who were the best band in the world, for a brief period, my favourite bands were Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, and the Blue Oyster Cult (fuckit, folks, I am not hunting umlauts down for this blogpost). I saw some some killer shows, mostly at the Pacific Coliseum, including Van Halen touring Diver Down (the "lock up your sheep" tour, with the original lineup of the band, including a cartwheeling David Lee Roth); Black Sabbath (with Ronnie James Dio) on the Mob Rules tour - which was maybe my third-ever stadium show, which I got my Dad to take me to; Judas Priest on Screaming for Vengeance (where Rob Halford rode a chopper onto the stage); the BOC on Fire of Unknown Origin (with Aldo Nova opening!); and Maiden on the Piece of Mind tour, complete with a really amazing 9 foot tall Eddie (I still don't know how they do that). I saw a lot of peripheral bands as opening acts, too - Saxon, Fastway, and I think even Kickaxe. I wrote lyrics for a teenaged metal band with a friend who could play guitar, poring over the dictionary for cool words for song titles and the band name (we settled on Epicurean Nightmare, and designed a cool logo, with interlocking E's and N's at either end. Then that dude - named Greg; no idea what he's up to these days - discovered punk, turned me on to the Sex Pistols, and I became - with the "fuck this and fuck that" chorus at the end of "Bodies," especially - indelibly impressed and fascinated with this new (to me) and dangerous-seeming genre, more than I'd ever been with metal: whatever metal was to me, punk was more of it, made even more compelling by the near impossibility of FINDING any artifacts of the form out in Maple fuckin' Ridge - and especially not bands from Vancouver, where the first wave of punk was just winding down.

Within a couple of years of discovering punk, I'd gotten rid of all my metal albums except for the BOC and Motorhead, who I discovered a bit later. Metal became the music of the people who drove by in their Camaros and chucked empty beercans at punks, or yelled abuse at them, or occasionally shitkicked them. I frequently site a story where the stoners in the park near our high school chucked rocks at me ("stoned by stoners") as I walked by with a funny haircut and a small Realistic tape recorder playing The Exploited. As much as I'd once loved metal's music, I realized that the people who liked it were to some extent stupid thugs, and I started to take issue with some of the lyrics (especially the sexist, rapeheaded lyrics - see "Squealer" - of AC/DC). Their tribe was at war with my tribe, and - since punks didn't actually go out there and shitkick people, at least not as a habit - all I could do was feel totally and utterly superior to the headbangers at my high school. Iron Maiden? Judas Priest? Fuck that shit - it's music for morons (that was how I felt around 1985, anyhow).

When the crossover happened - with Suicidal Tendencies, the Bad Brains, and D.R.I. all releasing albums that took them in a much more "metal" direction, circa 1987 - it made me sad. Maybe punk could get wider appeal because of it, but these were all bands I liked. I could recognize - with some festering tribal ambivalence - that there was some great stuff going on with the Bad Brains' I Against I - but I was so disappointed with D.R.I. that, not only did I not buy Crossover, I sold my copy of Dealing With It and stopped listening to them. Tribal loyalties run deep, you know? I tried, as I recall, to listen to Annihilator at the time, but only because Rampage was singing; when I found out it was just more metal, I tuned out (enjoying their new stuff a lot, tho'). I was pretty closed-minded and probably blocked out music I really would have enjoyed, as a result. I kind of wouldn't mind revisiting Suicidal Tendencies' Join The Army, because at the time I absolutely hated it: what's this shit? This band had been GREAT, and now they were making this crappy, lame metal... yecch.

I didn't come back to metal in any real sense til around 2008, when two things happened: I interviewed Lemmy Kilmister - eventually even met him in person - and, in doing my homework, discovered that I liked a lot more than just classic Motorhead; and learned that a free jazz/ noise musician I liked and had seen live, at gigs at the Sugar Refinery and 1067 and elsewhere, was joining a metal band. That guy was named Masa Anzai, then known to me as a saxophone player; and the band was, of course, Bison; I still remember being surprised when he told me, at a Mats Gustaffson concert during the jazz fest ("I can always play the saxophone when I'm older," he reasoned. Okay, I guess that makes sense...).

I actually saw Bison, with Masa, at the Plaza, when their current album was still Earthbound. I didn't know what to make of it at the time, but by damn did they look like they were having a good time. I still have a t-shirt from that show, actually...

Anyhow, Masa was up there with Lemmy, for me, in other words, in terms of getting me to get interested in metal again. Turned out that so much had happened in the genre since I'd walked away back in 1986 or so that there was a lot to hold my interest; it didn't hurt, either, that I was starting to interview people. For a year or so, I plunged deep: I watched every Sam Dunn film I could find, I read Lords of Chaos - an excellent book, even if it looks like it's going to be a deeply suspect movie - and bought maybe a hundred different metal CDs, taking in movements (death metal, black metal, folk metal, sludge, doom, etc) that I had completely ignored to that point. Believe it or not, until about 2008, I had never owned or listened to classics of the genre like Slayer's Reign in Blood. It really didn't take much for me to fall in love with it all over again, especially since even the most derivative, genre bound, and mediocre death metal and black metal bands sounded completely new and strange to me. How was I to know that there were a hundred other bands out there that sounded exactly like them?

It lasted for awhile, and then petered out. Death metal, with all its technical prowess and showoffery, lost me first; black metal - much of which sounds the same to me - came a close second, though it still interests me as a phenomenon (it seems to have inherited the old puritan "underground" spirit of punk rock, taking it even more seriously in some cases). To my surprise, the bands I found myself enjoying the most were folk metal (which sounded utterly ridiculous on paper, before I saw, say, Arkona and Korpiklaani live) and, yep, exactly the stuff I'd liked as a kid: Maiden and Priest and Sabbath.

Eventually I kind of lost that second wave of enthusiasm, and went back to listening to punk, mostly. I haven't spun much metal in the last year or two; I've listened to some Unleash the Archers and Amon Amarth and other bands I've written about, but I haven't been digging like I was just a short time ago. (I didn't even buy anything at the Scrape closeout).

Anyhow, I don't know why, but I'm wanting to listen to metal again more. I'm totally excited about the MUTANK/ Annihilator show this Thursday - today, maybe, by the time I publish this, and have interviewed MUTANK for an online article at the Straight. And in print, I've done a feature on the second most significant band in getting me back into metal, the cherished Bison, formerly Bison BC. I am so keen to see Friday's show I can't believe it. I actually didn't care that much for that last EP they released, so I'm really, really happy to be lovin' their new album so much. I was afraid without Masa - the guy who got me INTO the band in the first place - my feelings about their music would change, but nope, it hasn't.

Really enjoy interviewing James Farwell, too. He's a very articulate and honest man, an interesting dude to talk to. Maybe I'll post some outtakes here sometime...

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

More on Christophe Szpajdel

Christophe Szpajdel in Vancouver, by Allan MacInnis

Christophe Szpajdel is a thoroughly unique human being. His passion and enthusiasm for his art are stunning; so is his enthusiasm for black metal and for talking about his art and black metal, which he seems to do tirelessly; you get the impression when he's not doing his work, he's talking about his work (though I gather he did get to spend part of the afternoon yesterday searching for frogs in Lynn Canyon, unsuccessfully). The day after Black 2, I ended up at a two hour dinner at the vegan Chinese restaurant Po Kung, on Kingsway, with Kevin Eisenlord, the Vegan Black Metal Chef, and Christophe; but the show was really all Christophe's. We talked about everything from recent disappointments - a client who he did over 40 variants on a logo for before they changed their mind - and his past history (the early days of black metal and his fandom for it). I'll be transcribing it all when I get a chance; it's a really interesting interview, he's a really interesting man (and I've put a clip of our talk online).

Unfortunately - for whatever reason - very few people came out to see Christophe, for the first and maybe only time, painting for about an hour live onstage on a beautiful naked girl named Medina, onstage at the Rickshaw on Sunday. I've never seen anything remotely like it (and he was followed by a great performance by SVNEATR, who also joined us at Po Kung yesterday). It would have been an incredible, if somewhat odd, inclusion in the Covenant - which Christophe attended, and would have loved to have been a more active participant in. Didn't happen! Something somewhere must have been offputting to people on the scene, because it would have been quite the addition (a few photos got taken, which I will post presently, but you really had to see it live, which I would guess fewer than fifty people did).

In other news, possibly related, I had odd dreams last night of seeing the Blue Oyster Cult at the Rickshaw, where they were doing a very strange, busy, and disorienting bit of live theatre, incorporating the songs. Buck Dharma. at one point, paused and expressed concern for a sunburn on my neck that I actually do not have; Mo Tarmohamed and Rob Frith were in the audience, as well.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A seriously Black Metal Weekend in Vancouver, plus Christophe Szpajdel interview, and a bit on grave desecration


I didn't actually work any mention of the ongoing Covenant festival into my Straight article about Sunday's "Black 2, the Gathering" at the Rickshaw - which might, I suppose, be to some people's irritation. The Covenant organizers have obviously worked hard to set up an enormous fest of black metal bands from all over the world,  along with very cool merchants, taking place in three different venues, starting early (5pm!) to fit in as much music as possible into the evening: and the article that gets the press is for an event held the day after, and focusing on someone - the Vegan Black Metal Chef - who is makin' a wee bit of sport of the subgenre (though he's a serious musician in his own right, with an industrial black metal project besides the cooking videos, called Forever Dawn - whose logo, note, is by Christophe Szpajdel.) I've got no particularly compelling excuses for not giving a nod to Covenant; I was busy at work, I was assigned an article, I did it, and only became aware Covenant was going on AFTER the article was done. Oops. But for those who care about black metal, night three of Covenant is today, starting at 5pm. As a relative outsider, I don't know any of the acts performing, though the best band name tonight by far is Vancouver's own Necroholocaust, IMHO (though my wife, making pancakes, just described their vocalist as sounding like a "horrifyingly mad Donald Duck," adding that "that's not a concert you will ever get me to," as if I needed the clarification..) And I expect that Christophe Szpajdel, the "Lord of the Logos," also interviewed in the Straight piece, will be there; he certainly was at Covenant last night, working on logos at the Rickshaw, where I ducked in to say hello, finding him just after Phoenix, Arizona band Harvest Gulgaltha played. They have a great band name - presumably referring to collecting bones from the hill where Christ and others were crucified, also rendered as Golgotha or Calvary; they also had great atmosphere - the Rickshaw was thick with red-lit dry ice - and harsh, intense music, with a cool album cover, pictured below, projected on the screens to the side of the stage. That's for their release Altars of Devotion, which was selling on vinyl for a mere $10. I managed to resist, since, you know, I can't actually play this stuff at home anymore...). Incidentally, lots of band merch on the tables seemed priced on the real cheap, I guess so they didn't end up having to bring it back with them; a person with money to burn and a passion for metal vinyl could find worse places to be tonight (there were also books, DVDs, clothing, and LPs from bands NOT playing; Victoria's Cavity table even boasted an Arkham House HP Lovecraft edition for At the Mountains of Madness, though it had a "real" - and totally reasonable - pricetag of $40).


Returning to the Lord of the Logos, however: the thing you realize very quickly about Christophe is that he is a true enthusiast, bursting for passion for what he does. Surveying the logos he's done on the Encyclopedia Metallum metal archives - including Pacific Northwest bands like Abigail Williams and Wolves in the Throne Room - you get kind of dizzy, there are so many. Kevin Eisonlord, the Black 2 event organizer and photographer who is managing Christophe and who hooked me up with him, tells me Christophe has done over 10,000 jobs so far, including, as I mention in the Straight piece, the faux-Mayhem Metallica logo in the "ManUNKind" video, which features the cast of the upcoming, controversial Lords of Chaos movie, which looks like it's going to mine all the most sensational and disenheartening aspects of the Mayhem story - where the whole "brain eating" trope comes from, though that seems to greatly exaggerate what Euronymous got up to, which mostly seems to be the making of amulets from bits of Dead's skull (the braineating thing in the Straight article was Mike's addition to the piece). Note, if you watch the Metallica video,  the Blasphemy shirt the drummer is wearing! 


Besides being passionate about his work, Christophe is, very clearly, a devout FAN of this music. When, for instance, he mentioned grave desecration, my mind went immediately to my chat with Blasphemy co-founder and vocalist Nocturnal Grave Desecrater and Black Winds, where grave desecration was hinted at (and quickly shied away from as a topic). To disgress again for a second, apparently - I learned from Black Winds - grave desecration is something that takes place in some quarters of the black metal community (a member of Norwegian band Emperor, for whom Christophe did the logo, was arrested for it; I forget the bands Gerry told me were also involved in the practice, but there's more than one). The appeal kind of makes some degree of sense, presuming you're into Satanism, or any more extreme brand of individualism; besides getting a good workout with a shovel, you can flout social taboos and conventions of religious superstition, and prove your toughness and independent-mindedness. It reminds me a bit of the Tibetan ritual of chöd, actually, where - I'm simplifying - you play a flute made from a thigh bone trumpet (a "kangling") and/ or a "damaru" (drum often made from a human skull cap) in a cemetary while praying for demons to dismember and/or eat you. It's meant to get rid of ego, but it could also be seen as a really hardcore dare. 


As true students of Tibetan spiritual practices will likely see, I don't really know chöd from C.H.U.D., but it does sound like a practice that would have an impact on a person's psyche. There's a bit more on the grave desecration in the black metal community here; apparently a former member of Blasphemy quit the band after he took things a bit far. As it happens, Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead had similar experiences with a Tibetan damaru, which he was glad to get rid of  (thanks to Dan Kibke for these anecdotes; he also has some good stories about Metgumbnerbone, a noise project that drew heat for making instruments from human bones, though these were harvested from a cemetary in disarray, not actually dug up). To come back to Christophe, he had talked in the Black 2 piece about how he would have nothing to do with bands who had desecrated Dimebag Darrell's grave. ("I don't mind if a band has a sort of ideological orientation in their lyrics, but if they are promoting disrespectful acts, that is where things are going wrong.") I wanted to ask the next logical question, to probe his boundaries: what about bands that had desecrated the graves of non-celebrities. Where does Christophe draw the line? 

And somewhere in there I mentioned Blasphemy - my only direct encounter with this practice - and Christophe was off and running. Once I said the name Blasphemy, I couldn't get a word in edgewise.
  
"Blasphemy is a completely different story," he responded, speaking in his very precise, Belgian-accented manner. "It is one of my favourite bands from Vancouver. They are for me the first extreme - really extreme - band I discovered, in 1990," he said, "when they recorded Fallen Angel of Doom, that I picked up as soon as it was released. I knew that this band would be a profound influence to the entire black and death metal scene. And actually, my dream is to finally be wearing a Blasphemy hoodie - with great pride!” (We're trying to help set that up, note). "Even if it's a band with a certain history behind it, it is my top favourite, and one of the most influential bands in my entire discography, because they are a band that opened the whole concept and inspired a lot of bands like Beherit, for example, or Impaled Nazarene, from Finland. And Blasphemy - I caught up with them, I've seen them live when they were with Immortal and Rotting Christ in 1993 - and then in 1994, with Gorguts. And they were absolutely amazing, for both shows. Of course, Immortal at that time were behaving like rockstars, they already had this rockstar attitude, but they were doing good shows. Rotting Christ were very under-estimated, and actually they were a fabulous band, and Blasphemy, you know, there was  this excitement: 'Ahh, Blasphemy in Europe! Can't miss that!' That is the time when they were signed on Osmose..."

Anyhow, I abandoned the line of questioning at that point, because I think I get the idea (you can always take it up for yourself at the Rickshaw tomorrow night, where Christophe will apparently be painting a logo on a (living) human body, and be the subject of a short film projection (Mo tells me it won't just be on the side screens, but on a real screen centre-stage). The cost for the event is only $10, which is stunningly cheap. Meantime, here's a bit more of my conversation with Christophe (cut somewhat short due to my faulty microphone).


Allan: Let me ask you about the Metallica video, for "ManUNkind."

Christophe: I think it was a gigantic leap for me, and it marked the year 2016 with a very positive blast. Same with the Rihanna logo, they were the two highlights of 2016. And actually, this is how I got recognized not only by the metal audience, but by the general public. That is when my name got to the light of knowledge of the most general public you can imagine. You know that I work in retailing, that I work at a checkout of a retail story, and I had lots of people who congratulated me for both the Rihanna and Metallica logos, as I had an interview in the local press. That has received positive reactions. I'm actually  not even aware that there would be negative reactions to my show with the Vegan Black Metal Chef - but this is Kevin's idea, and Kevin has great ideas. With that being said, Kevin is aiming to put me for Black 3 in Japan on a cruise ship! It would be great if Kevin, with all the connections he gets; I know he can get bands like Darkthrone, Satyricon, Immortal, Emperor - to play all together on one cruise ship! He's got amazing convincing skills, to say how successful an event with these bands, and my exhibition, could be. On a cruise ship!

That sounds amazing...! I wanted to ask about the retail store. I'm surprised given how well-known and respected  you are, that you still have to work retail! Do you want to get out of that?

I won't say that, now. I have recently transferred to a very good store where I have excellent rapport with colleagues and management, and I feel like there are a lot of clients who choose another route. Kevin's been talking with a lot of clients - he has put together lots of price packages - and a lot of clients, they just stop responding to emails once it got to the time to take the down payment, which means, "sorry, we've decided to take another route." [Kevin Eisonlord, in a separate interview, noted that there are graphic designers out there willing to work for incredibly cheap, on websites like Fiverr; it's a very competitive field].  The reason why I wanted to pursue retail is, I feel like I cannot yet make a living on my logos, no matter how well-known I am. I've been going with all Kevin's ideas - like Father's Day t-shirt, Mother's Day t-shirts [and others, that I'm not going to mention online, since they involve trademark infringements]. We put them online, and the response was fairly low. So that is proving - I must be honest, I always will be honest with you and everybody else - that making a living out of my logos at the moment is not possible. That's the reason I do about thirty hours in that retail store - I'm contracted for twelve - and I have then my art, that I can fit around it. Also, that art gives a sense to my life. I am single, no wife, no children, so I've got time on my hands to concentrate on the clients who really want to work with me. Remember, there is so much competition... There are excellent other logo artists, like Chris Horst, Gragoth from Luciferium War Graphics, Raoul Mazzero from View from the Coffin, [and someone whose name sounds like "Alan Zahim," who I can't find on Google], they are all people I have collaborated with, on several occasions. Especially I have done collaborative works with Chris Horst. And how many times, clients, when I have responded, just the next day - because I got the email while I was sleeping - the client was saying, "well, thank you very much for your time and response, but we have chosen to work with a different artist." How many times I have received that answer! Practically nine out of ten times. That proves there is very strong competion in the logo art scene, which very few people seem to realize!

I certainly hadn't. So what logos are you working on lately? 

At the moment I've been working on quite a few. I've been working with a band from Barcelona called Together, I've started working with a logo for a company from London called Bompas and Parr, a clothing company called Blind Death, a metal band from Canada called Black Sacrament(s?), and then another called Thanatos - so quite a large bunch of people. And also last week I've been working on a few designs that I have sent to Kevin - Kevin asked me to do renditions of a few classics [from a company whose name I will keep out of this article] like The Lion King, The Little Mermaid... but it wasn't really clicking. I kind of forced myself into these, but I got really unlocked when I did something that Kevin had not asked me to do, which is the Sorcerer's Apprentice, and there I let my imagination go completely berserk, especially with brooms carrying buckets! And this melody - "dah dah dat dah dah, dah dah" - it really unlocked me! I don't know, the others just didn't click. I also used my own initiative, on my own, to create two logos for Game of Thrones, and one for Deadpool. 

They're not comissioned pieces, though, right?

They aren't comissioned, they're just things I did because I wanted to do them. I have not been asked to do it. I've sent them to Kevin, because - with that being said, Kevin has the most amazing marketing skills you can ever imagine, it's amazing how he can sell ice to Eskimos. He is so good at it! 

When you do designs outside of black metal bands - are they all in the fashion of metal logos?

They have a sort of black and death metal form, especially the one I did the Sorcerer's Apprentice!

Did you have any interesting experiences last time you came to Vancouver? 

Last time I went to see some interesting shows. I had a glimpse of a band I really like - the Dayglo Abortions. I really enjoyed their music; I think they're the sort of "missing link" between punk and metal. And I think also that they are a very emblematic band in Canada. I picked up their album Here Today, Guano Tomorrow, in 1987, when it was on sale - you know the unsold records, after awhile they go on a discounted sale? So I just picked it up for $5. It was still in shrinkwrap, an unsold album. But they have a reputation for playing loads of gigs, they probably are doing one gig every day!


Murray Acton of the Dayglo Abortions, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

They work hard, yes! Let me ask one last question. I am surprised that some people have taken exception to the Vegan Black Metal Chef's appearance at the Rickshaw. Maybe they don't know his stuff - it seems very smart and funny and he obviously has a love of black metal, but there's been a hostile reaction to it - some people in the black metal community seem to take themselves a little seriously. So how do you feel about sharing the stage with the Vegan Black Metal Chef?
I think, personally, it's fabulous, it's amazing, because I am open minded. Unfortunately, I would say to a lot of these black metal kids who consider themselves true and cult and evil as possible, my message to them is, "Grow up and wake up."


Christophe Szpajdel will be at the Rickshaw tomorrow (Sunday, June 11th) alongside the Vegan Black Metal Chef, Kevin Eisonlord, and SVNEATR. Tickets are a mere $10. Also check out the Covenant Festival night three, also at the Rickshaw, starting in about two hours from now (5pm today).