The real culprit is frantic, shriek-y, blast-beaty “black metal”—and even then, its corpse-painted purveyors don’t necessarily screech about Ol’ Scratch.
“Black” is the opposite of white inasmuch as Christians use the latter to symbolize purity. Black therefore signifies impurity, corruption and nothingness—not necessarily Satanism, but the absence of God, or faith in him. At least that’s what most black-metal musicians say when they deny being outright Satanists, like Zodiac and Dying, singer and guitarist of Salt Lake City black-metal bands Gravecode Nebula and Iconoclast Contra, respectively.
From a white couch in their downtown practice space, Zodiac and Dying deny perpetrating the most notorious black-metal shenanigans. They don’t, like the bands in black-metal flashpoint Norway, burn down churches, although they might’ve heard grapevine whispers about church vandalism. “We encourage it,” says Zodiac, “but I won’t incriminate myself.”
Separately, Hades, singer-bassist for the Pagan Dead, said he understands why the Norwegian bands do it—“to protest Christianity corrupting their [formerly pagan] culture”—but doesn’t condone it: “They’re destroying some beautiful architecture.”
In fact, the black-metal musicians City Weekly spoke with deny putting more than a philosophical flame to Christianity and its constructs. What’s more, they’ve never committed murder, like Mayhem’s ex-bass player Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes, who fatally stabbed his guitarist, Oystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, in 1993, or Emperor drummer Faust, who stabbed a gay man in a Lillehammer park the previous year.
Nor has any member committed suicide or photographed the scene for an album cover and made necklaces with pilfered skull fragments, as did the doomed Euronymous. Although, it warrants mentioning that Zodiac, shortly after this interview, will enter jail for cutting a fellow musician’s arm, and is known to cut himself onstage.
These scary stories both detract from and enhance black metal. They elicit condemnation, sometimes from other black-metal musicians, but also lend credibility to a genre that draws power from its apparent, and in some cases admitted, occult affiliations. Black-metal musicians aren’t, like once-terrifying bands such as Iron Maiden, content to be simply inspired by horror films. Black-metal bands are, to borrow the title of Venom’s seminal black-metal album, At War With Satan, allies against Christianity and conformity, not minions. “It’s a warfare,” says Dying. “It always has been … Philosophical[ly], and through action, too.”
That’s the consensus among the black-metal scene at large. Salt Lake City’s black-metal scene is more conceptually and musically diverse. The Pagan Dead draws mainly from ceremonial magick, but endeavors to educate its audience about organized religion, says Hades. “Religion is like supplicating yourself to a higher power; magick is trying to control those powers,” he says. Tlatecatl and Yaotl of local Aztec and Mayan-influenced Yaotl Mictlan wage a much different philosophical war. In a society where Latinos are increasingly maligned, says Yaotl, the band aims “to spark an interest in Latino youth about [their heritage] so they can… be proud of who we are.”
Musically, the Pagan Dead is rooted in psychobilly, but embraces a black-metal through-line that happened organically in rehearsals. Yaotl Mictlan, true to its ethos, integrates indigenous instruments like flutes, Mayan trumpets and Mexican tree-seed shakers in their sound—not to mention singing in Spanish, Aztec and Mayan languages. Gravecode Nebula plays “experimental black doom metal,” and Iconoclast Contra more traditional black metal like Ibex Throne, the band from which SLC’s black metal scene evolved, as it included members of all three bands featured here.
Despite their stylistic and doctrinal deviations, Yaotl and his peers agree there’s a profound unity among them: “We all play black-metal, and we’re all allies!”
Together, they form a vital part of the Salt Lake City underground music scene that’s worth a look, and not so subterranean after all.
South of Heaven: The Guide to Local Black Metal
Hankering for a dose of evil set to blast beats and eviscerating guitars? Here’s your portal to the dark dimension… or at least the MySpace and YouTube domains of Salt Lake’s black metal bands.
Ibex Throne is Salt Lake City’s seminal black metal band. Together from 1997-2007, Ibex paved the way for today’s scene since its members staff bands like Yaotl Mictlan, Gravecode Nebula, Iconoclast Contra, Irkingu, and The Pagan Dead.
Featuring Zodiac and Dying from Ibex Throne, Gravecode plays “experimental black doom metal,” a slightly sludgy version of black metal.
IC features most of the same members as Gravecode Nebula but puts out a more traditional black metal.
HEAR: “Suicidal Manifesto”
Yaotl Mictlan (“Warriors from the Land of the Dead”) members Tlatecatl and Yaotl formed this band as a way to instill pride in Hispanic youth and teach them about their Aztec and Mayan heritage. To this end, YM sings in Spanish, Aztec and Mayan tongues about ancient Mesoamerican cultures—and drops traditional instrumentation in among the blast beats and slashing guitars. Although not a traditional black metal band in the sense that most black metal is pagan or anti-Christian, Yaotl Mictlan is atheistic. Their current album, Dentro del Manto Gris de Chaac, is out now on major metal label Candlelight Records.
THE PAGAN DEAD
The Pagan Dead’s “Chthonic Psycho Metal” blends psychobilly—rockabilly plus punk and metal overtones—with black metal. The band is at work on its third album.
Formed during a year-long break for Yaotl Mictlan, Xolotl espouses similar ideology and instrumentation and features YM drummer Yaotl and bass player Nahualli.
Another cousin to Yaotl Mictlan, Irkingu features YM’s guitarist Tlatecatl. The band was formed the same year as Ibex Throne and they recorded demos in 2001 and 2006 before going on hiatus. The MySpace page exists so fans of the other bands can hear the as-yet unreleased music.
THE OBLITERATE PLAGUE
Formed in 2001, The Obliterate Plague has gone through multiple lineups before settling on its current incarnation, featured on the 2010 album Striga Moon.
An offshoot of The Obliterate Plague, Terra Noir is, as of August 2009, “pretty much in the grave now” according to Alex Berzerker who says in the same MySpace post, “black metal is like a joke these days… I myself see a lot of it that way… Kiddies too evil to take life serious and its [sic] all quite funny (really it is hilarious).”